For a company which owes a big part of its comeback from a near death experience to the undying loyalty of its hardcore Mac customers, Apple has a funny way of showing its appreciation.
When Apple announced its new Power Mac G4 range, aimed at the graphics professional and higher education markets, the company promised that the machines would be shipping by now.
However, Motorola, Apple's sole supplier, has been unable to supply the Power Mac G4 chips sufficiently to meet the 150,000 machines that have been ordered. Apple claims to have shipped 60,000 G4 Power Macs but few have been sighted in the UK.
Motorola has now announced that it will be unable to ship any of the 500MHz G4 chips until next year. Apple's retirement of the G3 Power Mac line means that UK Mac distributors and dealers have have been left with no Macs to sell.
"I can't remember the last time we had any Power Macs in stock. We've got eight weeks' worth of unfulfilled orders from the channel, and frankly we're fed up," said a spokesman from Mac distributor, C2000.
Apple admitted a worldwide backlog of unfulfilled product orders valued at $700 million, and stated that urgent action is required.
"We aim to delight our customers, and we clearly dropped the ball in this instance. We apologise to our customers for upsetting and disappointing them during this past week," said Steve Jobs, Apple's interim CEO.
Apple UK's channel marketing manager, Nigel Boatswain, acknowledged the crisis: "I can sympathise with our resellers about having no products to sell, and clearly we have to address the logistical side of getting products to market."
After another highly profitable quarterly profit, Apple decided that the best way to meet backorders for its G4 Power Mac range was to downgrade processor speeds to match availability from Motorola.
The company announced that it would replace its existing product range of 400, 450 and 500MHz PowerMac G4s with slower equivalents running at 350, 400 and 450MHz respectively, promising to reinstate the 500MHz G4s next year when Motorola was able to ramp up chip supplies.
Initially this seemed a decisive response to the backlog. However, two aspects of Apple's plans provoked fury among Mac resellers and customers: firstly Apple, citing escalating memory chip prices, said that it would sell the new, slower G4 PowerMacs at the same prices as the withdrawn faster models.
Apple also said it would not honour the unfulfilled orders placed by resellers and customers. Instead it invited its customers to re-order the new, less attractive configurations and wait even longer for delivery.
"How are we supposed to go back to our customers and tell them that not only have their orders which they placed maybe two months ago have been cancelled but that they can now buy slower machines for the same price," said the marketing director of a major Mac reseller, who requested anonymity on the grounds that he desperately needed product from Apple.
Dealers and customers strike back
Apple, after being bombarded with an avalanche of enraged customer and dealer emails, appeared to relent and the company issued an email to customers reversing the decision.
But Apple resellers started receiving conflicting emails from Apple telling them that the company would only reinstate a small proportion of G4 PowerMac backorders.
Steve Jobs then promised US customers and dealers that the company will honour all orders at the original price and specificiations for all G4 Power Macs ordered before Wednesday 13 October.
Apple UK followed suit, but there is still a mystery concerning the 500MHz G4 Power Macs.
"In the UK we never accepted orders for 500MHz machines in the first place, so I'm not sure what we will be able to do for our resellers who may have taken orders for 500MHz G4s from their customers," said an Apple UK spokesman.
In two months Apple has gone from being the 'Comeback Kid' delivering a textbook lesson in marketing, to a lesson on how to really alienate your most loyal customers.
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