Apple may back-off from its plan to substitute slower processors in G4 Power Macs, without offering a price-break to customers who had placed advance orders for the new systems.

The chip switch, together with Apple's decision to cancel all advance orders for G4 systems, has been roundly criticized by Apple customers and retailers in the 24 hours since it was announced, and the complaints have apparently reached Apple headquarters in Cupertino. Although Apple has not yet commented on a change in plans, several G4 customers told MacWeek that Apple sales representatives said they could expect a public announcement in the near future.

Jon-Paul Kelly, a video-editor and graphic designer in San Francisco, said an Apple Store sales representative told him Thursday that Apple will, in fact, honour all advance orders for 400 and 450MHz G4 computers, at the prices originally agreed to. "She said they're just waiting on the final word," Kelly said. "They're going to issue a statement later today, and give us all a break."

Another MacWeek reader and G4 buyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email message, Thursday, that he was told by an Apple representative that "an explanation from Apple was forthcoming".

Future G4 buyers will still have to pay higher prices, however, and a shortage of 500MHz chips will delay delivery of the top-of-the-line systems until early next year.

Meanwhile, retailers polled Thursday by MacWeek said G4 computers are in short supply and sales representatives are fielding phone calls from customers confused by Apple's announcement about the drop in processor speed.

Thomas Armes, president of Elite Computers & Software in Cupertino, Calif., said his store had orders for more than 50 of the 500MHz G4 systems when Apple announced the chip hold-up.

"Our plan is basically to mirror Apple (strategy), and simply offer the product as it becomes available," Armes said. Although the store sold all of its 450MHz G4 machines last week, Elite continues to have "a good supply" of 400MHz G4 models, he said, and they were available at the original price.

Meanwhile, a salesman at Computer Town, a US-based retail chain with six stores, said there are no G4 models in stock, and that any 400MHz models that arrive would go to customers who placed advance orders.

Computer Town has received "a lot" of calls from customers who had pre-ordered the 500MHz model and were confused by changes announced by Apple, the salesman said.

In the UK, Apple representatives seemed uncertain of the matter, but did point out that the reconfiguration was inspired by a shortage of G4 chips, not because Apple wanted to snub their customers. He also stressed that this was merely a solution by which Apple could ramp up supply of new G4 computers to their customers.