Apple's iPod line will drive the company's growth, something that will be evident when the Windows version of iTunes 4 and the iTunes Music Store becomes available, Charles Haddad writes in his latest "Byte of the Apple" column for Business Week Online.

Haddad says it doesn't matter how fast the new Power Mac G5s are. Though the Mac will keep improving, it won't set "the computing world on fire" nor will the Mac ever represent more than 3-5 per cent of all computer sales.

"What I am saying is that Apple is at one of the most important turning points in its history," Haddad wrote. "It stands at the threshold of crossing over from cult favourite to household name. Apple is making this crossing on the slender back of its little iPod. This portable digital-music player is at the cusp of doing for music what the original Apple did for computing in the late 1970s: setting the standard as the mass market for these players starts taking off."

The iPod will Apple's first successful product "not tethered to the Mac," Haddad opines. iTunes Music Store sales will increase by a factor of seven with the addition of Windows users, but Apple's real profits will come from sales of the iPods themselves, he adds. Predictions have iPod sales growing to 975,000 units in 2003 (and 1.25 million when Windows users come onboard), giving Apple 54 per cent of the digital music player market.

"With that kind of growth Macs will become a nice little side business - perhaps even a giveaway someday to lure eager iPod buyers," Haddad says. "Let's face it. The Wintel duopoly has won the battle for PCs, but they can have it, since PCs have by and large become standardized, safe and boring. Not so with portable digital-music players. With the iPod, Apple has truly designed a thrilling new computer with wide appeal. Mac fans, behold the future."