Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iTunes music store appeared to be back to normal Thursday (Dec. 28), two days after shoppers wielding new gift cards faced long delays in downloading music on Christmas and the hours afterward.

Apple officials didn't return telephone calls Thursday and the company has not explained why shoppers received error messages and slowdowns of 20 minutes or more for downloads of a single song on Monday and Tuesday.

But Wall Street analysts said the delays were probably caused by music sales that dramatically exceeded the Cupertino-based company's own forecasts and resulted in too many people with holiday iPods and iTunes gift cards trying to access the site at once.

Four times as many people visited the iTunes Web site on Christmas than at the same time last year, according to online market researcher Hitwise.

Apple commands about 75 percent of the market for downloaded music, but could lose as much as 5 percent of that market share in 2007 because of increased competition from rival services, according to Piper Jaffray.

The company's stock price fell almost 2 percent to $80.17 on the Nasdaq Stock Market in early trading Thursday.

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