In an interview with Sunday Business newspaper, Pascal Cagni, Apple's vice president and general manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa, revealed that the company is planning aggressive expansion into the consumer retail market.

Cagni told Sunday Business reporter Tony Glover that Apple hopes to develop its own retail chain in key western European locations such as London and Paris along the lines of the model rolled out last year in the US, where it opened 50 stores in 250 days.

Although no date has been set for the first opening, Apple has revealed that it hopes to have a European retail chain within six to 18 months.

Reaching out to new users Despite its US retail division not yet returning a profit, Apple says it is "acting as a powerful tool for invigorating interest in our products". Retail revenues increased from $63 million in the third quarter of 2002 to $102 million in the fourth. Losses for running retail fell to $3 million from $6 million. Apple's retail outlets are on course to attract an annual revenue rate of almost $12 million per store.

Reporting the results last October, Apple chief financial officer Fred Anderson said: "The retail division has knocked the cover off the ball, this quarter".

The company uses its retail outlets to reach beyond the installed sales-base. The retail outlets are also making significant sales of "beyond the box" items, including AppleCare and iPod, Anderson said.

During January's Macworld Expo keynote in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that retail-store revenue from October to December 2002 was "right on target" at $148 million. There were 1.4 million visitors to the stores in December alone, he claimed - with 50 per cent being Windows users. 85 million US citizens currently live within 15 miles of an Apple Store.

iPod a Euro star, too Euro chief Cagni also revealed that the iPod has a 40 per cent European market-share - backing up the reported news that Apple's digital music player is the number-one selling MP3 device in the US and Japan. Worldwide, Apple shipped over 600,000 iPods in its first 14 months.