Macworld Online readers want cheaper, faster Macs that are better advertised and available at Apple Stores outside the US, according to our recent reader poll.

Macworld asked readers "What aspect should Apple first address to increase market share?" 1,236 readers replied. In order of priority, they asked for: Processor speed increases (39 per cent); Price cuts (34 per cent); Better advertising, and Apple Stores outside the US (10 per cent each).

Apple is addressing some of these areas. The company has reduced the cost of many of its models, and introduced faster processors across its line-up in recent weeks. Unfortunately, readers remain disappointed by the current top speed G4 processor - 1.42MHz.

Other features attracted fewer votes: System-bus speed bothered just 39 readers (three per cent), while additional features, such as FireWire 800, were seen as positive moves by just 26 readers. Ease-of-use improvements and better video cards gained 16 and 10 votes respectively.

The speed debate generated different arguments. Comparing a Power Mac G4 with a 2.5MHz Dell PC, one reader remarked: "By the time you bring the Dell up to the Mac standard, that Dell is slower at some things and faster at others. But does it matter?"

The reader claimed his Dell PC takes 50 seconds to boot, against the Mac's 64, but adds that the PC is slower at file searches, playing digital music and digital-video tasks.

"Speed is not the issue," the reader said: "It's about Apple marketing the advantages. Everything just works on a Mac," the reader explained.

Another reader, a computer consultant wrote: "Having purchased an office full of Windows XP machines that crash and whine and need to be sent back to the manufacturer, I am now an Apple convert.

"Windows XP should be outlawed everywhere except Iraq," the consultant wrote, who has now invested in a number of Mac systems.

Chip worries Speed remains the platform's great Achilles heel, some readers believe. Current debate considers the options available to Apple if it wants to ramp up those speeds. It's an issue that needs addressing. "To convince Windows users to convert you need to give them big numbers," one reader observed.

Another commented: "Apple needs to start showing it's addressing the speed issue. It no longer touts the megahertz myth argument. The AIM alliance is now just a millstone around Apple's neck."

The AIM Alliance - Apple, IBM and Motorola - develops processors for Apple's machines. Motorola's development of the G4 chip has been slow, observers say, and the company reputedly misunderstood how quickly Intel would be able to ramp-up the speeds of its Pentium chips - creating a major on-paper speed advantage for Intel marketing campaigns.

Looking at the opportunities for improvement, a respondee said: "People who say current Macs are fast enough only use them for office applications. I do 3D and video work and Macs just aren't fast enough at the moment compared to PCs. If Apple ever releases Mac OS on Intel or a much faster chip, I will get a new Mac, but until then I will just make do with my year-old G4".

One reader remarked: "System bus speed is a major issue. It's choking the DDR RAM. At this point there's little or no advantage to using DDR RAM."

Bus queue Because Motorola's chips integrate an older Frontside Processor Bus architecture currently running at 167MHz in the 1.42GHz G4 processors, the chips cannot fully harness the advantages of DDR RAM's 2.7GBps data throughput speeds.

This means the system's capacity to move data between memory and the processor (for manipulation by the processor) is restricted to 167MHz. This means benchmark figures taken after the introduction of DDR memory show no significant performance advantages. Read Macworld's March 2003 issue for a full report on this. It hits the newsstands on February 13.

Price isn't right Apple's premium prices also affect buying decisions. The company has never set out to be the cheapest vendor, offering innovation rather than affordability to its customers. But combining processor speed with price has affected some.

"If I can buy a 3GHz Pentium 4 with a 15-inch screen and GeForce 4 Ti for a grand, but have to pay twice that for the equivalent Mac, I'll take the Pentium," one reader said. Another remarked: "I wouldn't pay the price for an under-powered Mac just now."

While most voters believe Apple sells "the best" products, many see its machines as over-priced. Some readers commented on the way Apple's local prices are set: "European prices are 27 per cent higher than those in the US," a reader claimed.

One reader remarked: "Apple should be looking at retaining, rather than increasing, market-share: Many of us use Macs out of preference rather than necessity and the economics of the next cycle of purchasing are looking decidedly anti-Apple."

X-posure Visibility is also an issue. Advertising and a high-street presence could help this, readers suggested.

"Apple must be as aggressive as Coca-Cola about marketing and as visible as H&M for retail," said one voter.

"If the public can't take a look at the beautiful machines on the high street, Apple won't be preaching to anyone but the converted," another pointed out.

Apple's US-centric marketing approach also took criticism: "Until it starts taking the non-USA market seriously, Apple's market share will continue to stagnate," said one reader, angry at Apple's seeming focus on the US.

The company is a fool to itself here. Its history is peppered with examples of better features or treatment being given to US rather than global customers.

Other readers are less than inspired by Apple's advertising company, Chiat Day's approach to advertising Apple: "Why doesn't Apple advertise the features of the Mac OS, the iApps, the user experience? Intel's new ads show burning CDs, listening to music, creating digital content - all of which we've been doing for years on the Mac. What's the point in decreasing price or increasing processor speed if they never advertise the products?"

'Push the digital hub", readers cry: "Apple has a real competitive advantage in this area. It needs to exploit it, not just appear slick and hip."

Another saw some irony: "I find it strange that a computer used by most advertising companies isn't well advertised."

Others want to see Apple increase its games market-share and produce a Mac version of DirectX. Another reader begged for USB 2.0 support. "Apple may have an investment in FireWire, but there are more USB 2.0 devices out there," they said.

As the migration to OS X reaches critical mass, Apple continues its focus on encouraging developers to move to the platform. But is it worth it?, one reader asked: "Developers are not going to carve code out of solid rock for less than five per cent market share," they explained.