Smart phone maker RIM this week unveiled its long-awaited touch screen-based Blackberry device. And if the initial reports are accurate, the device--called the Blackberry Storm--will offer viable competition to Apple's trend-setting and innovative iPhone. It will be offered via Verizon Wireless in the US.

"The BlackBerry Storm offers our customers more ways to stay connected to both their personal and professional lives, whether in their communities or around the globe," said Verizon vice president Mike Lanman. "The BlackBerry Storm combines the reliability of our 3G network with the dependability and network efficiency of the BlackBerry platform to deliver our customers the ultimate wireless experience, all in one of the coolest smart phones available on the market today."

To date, all of RIM's Blackberry devices have been notable for two reasons: Seamless integration with corporate email servers and their surprisingly useful but tiny hardware keyboards. The Storm continues Blackberry's tradition of email excellence, but it dispenses with the keyboard, opting instead for a large, iPhone-like touch screen. But it goes Apple one better by fixing some of the deficiencies of the iPhone screen. For starters, the Storm screen is backed by a grid of springs, so every screen press can respond with tactile feedback.

The Storm also distances itself from the iPhone by working with the two leading but incompatible cell phone networks used around the world. So the same device will be sold for use with Verizon's US-based networks as well as those of Vodaphone, which utilizes completely different wireless technology. The device's dual radios ease international roaming, but also allow the Storm to work on the best networks wherever they may be, and regardless of the underlying wireless technology used.

From a usability perspective, the Storm offers a better Web browser, which can sense lighter and firmer presses on the screen, allowing it to differentiate between clicks and cursor movements. This isn't possible on the iPhone.

The Blackberry Storm will be available by the end of the year, RIM says. It will come in multiple colors, offer a removable battery and Micro SD slot (take that, iPhone), and comes with 1 GB of built-in memory. RIM has not yet announced pricing, but it's expected to come in around the same price as a comparable iPhone.