(LAS VEGAS) - Apple isn't officially attending the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but that doesn't mean Apple's presence isn't felt. In fact, almost every gadget and gizmo is being compared to Apple's products across the expansive showroom floors, especially with rumors heating up that the company's next-gen iPad 3 may actually be at the event. Even though those reports aren't confirmed, several other reporters have confirmed that over 200 Apple employees are at CES 2012, making their rounds and quietly judging their competition.

First of all, let's address the big rumor: Is the iPad 3 at CES? Well, it may be, but most likely not. Reports said Apple's next-generation tablet prototype may be hiding at CES, standing in place of the iPad 2, but since the two tablets are reportedly very similar in size and form, most people wouldn't give it a second look. Apple's iPad 3 will reportedly double its battery life and pixel density, sporting a QXGA 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution for beautiful true HD photos and videos. The rear- and front-facing cameras are also said to get an upgrade in the next model, as well as the internal processor. Apple's A5 chip in the iPad 2 (and iPhone 4S) will likely be replaced by an A6 chip for high-speed graphics.

Apple will likely sell the iPad 3 at $399 to bring the price of the iPad 2 down to $299, and the original iPad to just $199. That magic $199 price point is shared by Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet and the HP TouchPad. Barnes and Noble's Nook tablet is $50 more expensive.

Whether or not Apple's newest products made it to the showroom floor, there's no doubt that many of Apple's employees are secretly swarming the Las Vegas Convention Center, analyzing and appraising their competition. One reporter happened to bump into one of Apple's marketing head for its mobile division:

While wandering around the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday, I bumped into Greg Joswiak, head of iOS product marketing for Apple, just outside of Sony's booth, said Tom Krazit, a reporter for PaidContent.org. Joz, as he's known within the Apple community, grinned sheepishly upon being recognized by a reporter and stopped to chat for a few minutes.

Joz added that he wasn't impressed with Sony's offerings.

Many falsely believe that Apple doesn't watch its competitors, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Ever since the company's inception, its founders and executives, Steve Jobs included, have kept a keen eye on competitors so they can build a product that beats theirs in every way. When Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, one of his first slides showed four other smartphone competitors on the market, including handsets from BlackBerry and Nokia. He lambasted their products during the presentation, and after he introduced the iPhone, he brought back the slide with the Nokia and BlackBerry phones to make fun of them one more time. Apple is quiet and secretive, yes, but don't confuse that for passive. The Cupertino, Calif. company is fiercely competitive.

Apple will have a lot to take away from this year's CES. The most-talked about gadget, LG's 55 OLED 3D TV, is an achievement in television manufacturing and display resolution, and there's no doubt that Apple will try to bring this technology to its own television, which may be coming at the end of 2012 or early 2013. The company won't be worrying about tablet competitors, as few companies have introduced any kind of tablet that can one-up Apple's iPad in any way, save for QOOQ's unique kitchen tablet. Even with a focus on UltraBooks, Apple will likely steal the thunder from companies like Acer, Sony and Intel when it unveils its newest line of MacBook Air laptops later this quarter.

Apple sold 32.1 million iPads in the fiscal year ended Sept. 24. The company will release the results of its first fiscal quarter on Jan. 24.