Though the much-anticipated event lacked "Pomp and Circumstance", it did get a touch of flair in the form of R&B singer Alicia Keys, as Apple's CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the UK, German and French versions of its iTunes Music Store today.

Apple also plans on launching a pan-European site in October that will initially be in English, with other languages added afterwards, Jobs said at a news conference here.

The iTunes Music Store, which has 700,000 tracks available for download, has shunned the subscription model. "Web site music stores suck," Jobs said. "People want to own their music, not have to pay subscription fees to hear their favourite song in 10 years' time."

Users can buy individual music tracks from the iTunes Music Store in the UK for £0.79 ($1.43), including VAT and most albums for £7.99, while in the localized versions of the German and French sites, tracks will run for €0.99 and most albums for €9.99, Jobs said.

Though Apple's rival, Napster, was out of the gate first with a digital online music service in the UK unveiled on May 20, Napster has yet to launch localized European versions of its service outside of the UK. Furthermore, Apple has already established a toehold in the UK with its iPod music player. The player has proven enormously popular in the UK, accounting for around 17 per cent of global iPod sales though December of last year.

But the iPod is facing increased competition from players that support Microsoft's WMA (Windows Media Audio) format, and also from RealNetworks' media player, which includes a digital music store that supports the AAC (advanced audio coding) format. AAC is the same format used by Apple for the iTunes service, though Apple's Fairplay digital rights management system keeps RealNetworks services from being played over an iPod. Both AAC and WMA are formats for storing compressed audio data.

In April, Jobs rejected overtures from Real Networks to make the services interoperable, saying that such a move would make no business sense for Apple.

Apple has sold over 85 million songs through iTunes in the US and currently holds 70 per cent market share of all legal downloads, Jobs said on Tuesday. Apple's CEO said earlier this year that the company would not launch versions of iTunes Music Store in Europe until the company was certain success rates could equal those already experienced in the US.

The UK, French and German markets combined account for 67 per cent of current European music sales and 23 per cent of global music sales, Jobs said. And according to the British Phonographic Industry, online music users in the UK have legally downloaded over 500,000 music tracks already this year, through companies such as On Demand Distribution. And further competition will come from Sony, which plans to launch its Connect music store in the UK, Germany and France at the end of June.

But Jobs said that Apple feels its biggest competition in the digital music space is from piracy. "Piracy has brought the UK digital music market to its knees. If you are going to compete with piracy, you have to understand it and offer something better," he said.