TORONTO -- Research In Motion will roll out a touch-screen model of its BlackBerry smartphone later this autumn, thrusting it into direct competition with Apple's popular iPhone.
RIM said on Wednesday the BlackBerry Storm will be available exclusively to Verizon Wireless subscribers in the U.S. and Vodafone subscribers in Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand.
RIM's launch of a touch-screen BlackBerry is not a surprise. Technology bloggers and analysts have speculated since early this year that the Waterloo, Ontario-based company was working on such a device. And late last month, Verizon Wireless sent out a promotional e-mail that heralded its arrival.
The Storm -- the latest BlackBerry aimed at the broad retail market -- comes with a touch screen that depresses slightly when it is pressed, RIM said, adding users will feel a soft click as the screen is released.
"This clickable interface is like an engineering marvel," RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview. "It is revolutionary."
Analysts have said that as RIM continues to push into the broader consumer market, beyond the executives and other professionals that have been its mainstay, it will see increased competition from other handset makers. RIM has consistently brushed off such concerns and its subscriber growth has backed up its confidence.
The Storm also comes preloaded with software for e-mail and managing documents, as well as a media player for music, movies and photos. It's also equipped with a 3.2 megapixel camera.
RIM did not announce a specific release date for the Storm, nor did it offer details on pricing.
The Storm's planned launch comes shortly after RIM said it will roll out a flip-phone version of the BlackBerry to capture more of the retail market.
Launching new, next-generation devices is squeezing RIM's gross margins because of higher costs. And in order to keep luring new subscribers, the company has to make sure its devices are priced attractively.
That has limited the company's ability to pass along the higher costs of making new devices to its customers.
Copyright 2007 Reuters. Click for restrictions.