Over half (53 per cent) of Macworld readers voting in this week's poll have purchased AppleCare – Apple's "comprehensive service and support offering" that includes three years of priority telephone access to Apple technical experts.

But according to one reseller these Mac users may be in for a long wait if they need assistance at the moment. Speaking to Macworld an anonymous reseller said: "AppleCare and support is a nightmare at the moment. Prior to December is was a breeze. Now customers are telling us they have been kept on hold for over an hour."

A number of Macworld readers have recently contacted the magazine to report similar experiences. One said: "Twice in the last fortnight I have had opportunity to call AppleCare UK. Both times the wait times to get through exceeded 30 minutes. No explanation was offered other than 'we are busy'."

These long waiting are particularly frustrating because, as one points out: "The number they offer is not a free phone number."

Another reader described his experience with AppleCare last weekend. "When I called AppleCare for help with a problem they offered me a solution and told me to call them back if it didn't work. It didn't work so I called them back and waited for 30 minutes, listening to the same voice tell me over and over again that my call would be answered as soon as someone was available. They didn't answer and I still have the problem."

In one readers opinion: "AppleCare is by far the worst customer service agency I've ever had the misfortune to deal with." He jokes that recently AppleCare has become a euphemism for all that is useless, stating that: "The Mars probe Beagle has gone all AppleCare".

The reader went on to describe his experience claiming that: "AppleCare told me to take my machine to a locally approved repair agent back in October. Over ten weeks later I'm still waiting for the repair to be completed and my machine to be returned to me.

"I have telephoned AppleCare and its appointed agent over a dozen times, and I have formally complained on four occasions. Finally I sent a letter of complaint by registered mail on December 17. I have yet to get a response, let alone an apology, from AppleCare, and am tearing my hair out as to what I should do next.

Not all bad

However, it seems that the problems with AppleCare are relatively recent. Many readers contributing to this week's poll have nothing bad to say about their experience of the service. In fact of 23 per cent describe their experience as 'excellent', and another 12 per cent as 'good'.

This compares to 9 per cent who had a 'very poor' experience, and 6 per cent who had a 'poor' experience. Another 7 per cent described their experience as 'average'.

One reader wrote: "My only experience of AppleCare was fantastic. They delivered a suitable box for my PowerBook, took it away, did a comprehensive repair and sent it back to me all within less than five days. It would have been a day quicker if I had kept the box my PowerBook came in. The engineer even gave me a detailed account of what he found and what he was doing about it and the whole experience was just as I hoped it would have been."

Another said: "AppleCare is fine. I've had no problems. They are quick, efficient and organized. I've only had to send an iBook back once – there were no problems and it was returned to me faster than they originally stated."

For another: "The telephone support has been excellent. I have never had to wait long and there has always been a pleasant and helpful person at the other end. But I would like to see the price come down. I didn't take out AppleCare for my iBook and had to replace the battery at £99 – less than half of the cost of AppleCare."

These positive views are reflected in a Which? report that appeared last October. In the examination of PC sales and support Which? found Apple's helpline services to be among the best. Apple customers also had higher than average levels of satisfaction with reliability.

According to the report 36 per cent of callers to Apple's helpline felt that their problems and queries were answered 'very well'. The helpline was voted 'very good' by 31 per cent and 'good' by another 40 per cent, making Apple's service one of the best – ranked third behind John Lewis and Independent, and above the likes of Sony, IBM, Dell, and Toshiba.