As the iPad 3 release date nears, Apple fanatics prepare to camp outside Apple stores nationwide as part of a perennial ritual that accompanies the release of every major product the company has introduced in recent years.

The expected iPad 3 release date is Wednesday March 7, when Apple will host an invitation-only event at 10 a.m. in San Francisco that industry observers believe will be the launch party for the next-generation tablet.

The company sent out an invitation to select reporters and media outlets last week, giving details on the event and stating the following: We have something you really have to see. And touch, accompanied by a photo of what appears to be an iPad with a finger pushing on its screen.

The ensuing buzz over the expected release of the season's most-anticipated device has generated a number of rumors about bells and whistles the iPad 3 may come equipped with and other speculation.

The rising frenzy of excitement has culminated in recent days with Apple fanatics already planning to camp outside the company's stores to grab the next-generation tablet despite the fact that an official iPad 3 release date has not been announced.

The Macrumors.com forums have been blowing up with such talk even before the official invitation to the March 7 event went out, with various posters discussing their plans for camping out. The practice has become a well-organized method of staying on top of the latest technology, and hardcore Apple-heads don't want to be caught behind the curve, no matter the lengths they have to go to ensure they have the newest gadget before their friends.

Macrumors.com user Now2407 has already had his or her plans for getting prime placement in line for the iPad 3 all mapped out by Feb. 23:

I was wondering what I should when I camp out for the iPad 3. I am planning to use my friends dads wifi hotspot (i think it has 5 GB of 3G on vrigin mobile) and I am going to string a 50 foot cord to the lamp post then get a power snake and use that for power. I am bringing the following Items: iPod touch 4G, money, moms iPad 1, food, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, flash light, flip cam.

To plan that far ahead of time for a product release that hasn't even been officially announced yet may seem crazy to outside observers, but to Mac lovers it's all just part of the tradition.

Tech.Eac, a user on TheVerge.com's forums, was already planning on Feb. 17 to camp out for the iPad 3 whenever it is released:

Camping out for the iPad 3: I'm wondering how the whole situation is like as this will be my first camp out - pre-order for an apple event. For both pre-orders and for camping out, he posted on the forum. Tips from people that have camped out for previous apple products? How quick do pre-orders run out that people go to the stores? And even then, are pre-orders directly from an apple warehouse and not a local apple store?

MacRumors.com forum user SPNarwhal posted on Feb. 28 that he is trying to work out a good game plan regarding camping out in advance of the iPad 3 release date, in which he articulate some of the concerns that such fanatics have about a product with a release still wrapped in such mystery and rumor:

If the iPad is released March 7th, but not announced to be released until the day of. What to do? How can you camp out for something that isn't even officially released to come out the next day? SPNarwhal asked. Technically you can camp out on the 6th and Apple can hold their event on the 7th stating that they're releasing it on the 8th. Who knows. (Unlikely, but possible.)Will stores even let you camp outside of them if they're not officially releasing a product the day after?

But TheVerge.com poster JesseDegenerate responded to people's criticisms that there is no reason to camp out for a product in the day of Internet pre-orders and other means of obtaining hot new items:

i think people only do it for the experience personally, JesseDegenerate wrote on the forum. I got my 4s the day before launch, and all i did was click a freaking button on a webpage.

Apple is said to appreciate all the love it gets for its fetishized products, and Daryl Deino, a tech writer for the Los Angeles Examiner, writes that he has spoken with a source at Apple who has confirmed that the tech giant expects people to camp out for the iPad 3:

You can bet that the people camping out for the iPad 3 will be treated very well and may even be given an extra gift, Deino wrote on Saturday.