Apple remains on track to deliver a Windows version of its iTunes Music Store by the end of the year, a senior executive confirmed last week.

Apple's director of marketing consumer applications Peter Lowe confirmed the plans in an interview with a top digital-media analyst.

Lowe said: "There is a broad set of stuff that needs to be supported. We are working away at it and are on track to deliver it by the end of the year. Developing Windows software can be a challenge at the best of times, as there are so many configurations of Windows PCs and connectivity peripherals. "

A former nuclear safety engineer, Lowe discussed the success of the service: "It has been more successful than we hoped. Some of our music partners hoped for a million sales in the first month. We sold over three million tracks in the first month."

Strong demand Lowe added that demand for the new iPod has been extremely strong - the company sold 26,000 units through its US retail stores in the first week of release.

April marked a sea-change in digital music sales across the industry. Portable digital-audio sales grew 12 per cent year-on-year in April 2003 in the US, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The CEA says revenues from factory-to-dealer sales of portable audio players grew to nearly $167 million in that month.

CEA analyst Sean Wargo said: "The rise in portable audio sales is largely due to the increasing growth of MP3 as a format. Portable CD players that play MP3, MP3-capable car CD players and portable MP3 players are the hot areas in audio right now."

The CEA acknowledges that new MP3 content services, such as the iTunes Music Store, have helped drive the market while providing consumers with access to legal content downloads at reasonable prices.

"As MP3 sales continue to grow, we can expect the emergence of more content services to cater to an increasing consumer base," he said.

Honesty Discussing the digital rights management features of the iTunes Music Store, Lowe said: "We fundamentally believe that most people are honest. The illegal file sharing services have prospered because there has been no elegant legal alternatives. We think if you give people great value, a really good selection of music, and fast, good-quality downloads, they will use the service in preference to the illegal ones."

Apple's success has boosted the entire market. While Lowe didn't discuss extending Apple's service to other territories, the impact has already been felt in Europe and the UK.

Sony Music today announced it would begin selling music downloads in the UK through the non-Mac friendly OD2 service. Sony was the last major to join the digital distribution market in Europe.

Because it uses digital-rights management technology provided by Microsoft, OD2 does not support Macs, as Microsoft's technology does not.

OD2 CEO Charles Grimsdale however acknowledged Apple's impact on the industry, saying: "Revenues are growing rapidly and there's been a huge amount of activity on our partner sites," he told ZDNet.

"Apple CEO Steve Jobs is my favourite person right now," he added.

Sea change Looking forward at the drivers for change in the tech industry, Lowe said: "In future the real sea-changes in our industry will be driven by things that truly empower users, rather than tech-fads."

Apple's approach has accelerated the pace of development in the space, and encouraged other major companies to explore the potential of pay-per-download services, according to Billboard.

Because Apple plans to release a Windows version of its service by the end of 2003, many potential competitors are accelerating their development plans to keep pace with Apple, that report claims.

Apple already offers content from the five majors, and met with an additional 80-100 independent labels June 5.

Speaking to Billboard, one anonymous label representative who attended the meeting said: "When they roll this out on PC, they're going to have all this independent product. It is also going to be the holiday season. It's going to be an explosion.

"We want to be a part of that."