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Apple leaves the Kindle Fire alone with latest iPad

Despite speculation about an iPad that would rival the Kindle Fire, Apple ignores its only real competition in the tablet market.

Apple CEO Tim Cook launching the new iPad. Donald Bell/CNET

If Apple is at all worried about Amazon's emerging iPad rival, the Kindle Fire, it showed no signs of it at the launch of its new iPad today.

The rumor mill, always in overdrive in advance of Apple launch events, suggested that the company might debut a smaller iPad that would compete more directly with the 7-inch Fire. There was some speculation that Apple might try to match the Fire's $199 price, or at least offer a device that was within $50 or so.

There was some logic to that thinking. The Fire has become the only true competition to the iPad in the tablet world. Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordon Rohan estimated that Amazon sold as many as 6 million Fires in the fourth quarter.

Like plenty of rumors about Apple launches, the Fire-rival speculation was wrong. Apple launched the third-generation iPad, but it comes in the same 9.7-inch size as the current model. And the pricing scheme is roughly the same as well, starting at $499, though the iPad 2 will stay on the market and cost $399.

Apple executives barely mentioned the competition at all. At one point, Chief Executive Tim Cook tweeked the Samsung Galaxy tablets as being overgrown mobile phones.

"The competitive tablets aren't gaining traction," Cook said.

Amazon, though, was never mentioned. That may be because the Fire's price tag is simply too low for Apple to match. Amazon, after all, benefits from selling books and other goods through its online store, allowing it to accept razor thin margins on the device.

During the presentation, Cook mentioned that the iPad was the favorite reading device among Apple products for its customers. It was also the favorite gaming device and e-mailing gadget as well. To Apple, the iPad fills more than just the niche in which the Fire resides.