A top IT-industry analyst is predicting that Apple's decision to launch a chain of branded stores will help the company increase its market share.

Lehman Brothers analyst Dan Niles said: " Apple has the ability to start attracting new customers with the launch of its higher-end retail store strategy."

The chain should boost awareness of the brand, added Niles in an AFX.com news report. Niles rates Apple's stock as "a buy". The first location will open this Saturday in McLean, Virginia.

Other stores are expected to open in New York, Chicago, Memphis and Bloomington. Many more stores are rumoured across the US.

AG Edwards analyst Brett Miller told the Interactive Investor Web site: "The stores will be about brand equity. If you're going to go after consumers you need to raise awareness and generate excitement."

Apple stock closed at $23.29 last night. The company also revealed it would see a $10 million charge in its results for the current quarter as a result of its recent PowerSchool acquisition.