Online competitive intelligence service Hitwise has reported visits to Apple's iTunes website jumped 413% on Christmas Day 2006, compared to Christmas Day 2005.

The company also registered the Apple online store as the fourth most-visited Web site on the Hitwise Retail Index for Christmas Day, 2006.

Hitwise attributes the huge jump in website traffic to new iPod owners wanting to download the latest version of iTunes. Hitwise general manager of global research Bill Tancer called the iPod "the must-have Christmas gift" for the third holiday season in a row.

Despite Microsoft's Zune catching a lot of media attention in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Tancer said that "competitive offerings have not yet succeeded in capturing the attention of music listeners."

The surge in interest also bucks the trend pointed to by UK High Street entertainment retailers like HMV of declining music sales which, including music downloads, dropped 14% during November and October.

Hitwise reports that visits to Microsoft's Zune.net Web site increased 1,030% on Christmas Day compared to the previous Monday (18 December), but even that was overshadowed by the iPod – market share of visits to the iTunes site increased 1,222 week to week, outnumbering Zune visits by 30 to 1.

Hitwise's methodology is based on "relationships with ISPs" based around the world, capturing anonymous online usage, search and conversion behaviour from 25 million internet users, according to the company.

(Additional reporting by Miya Knights)