BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Inc. has introduced a smartphone with a look and feel similar to Apple Inc.'s iPhone — replacing the physical keyboard with a touchscreen interface.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM introduced its BlackBerry Storm on Wednesday, and said the device would be available later this fall in Canada, the United States, Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand.

While the Storm appears to mimic the iPhone's interface, BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie said what makes the touchscreen keyboard distinctive is that users can hear and feel the "clicks" of the keyboard as they type, letting them know they have actually pressed the key.

"You feel it," Balsillie told the Canadian Press in an interview. "There's a real click to it. It actually moves," he said of each key.

"The big issue of touch is you complete your motion by lifting your thumb, which is unnatural, because when you type you complete your motion by clicking down" he said of touchscreen typing. "You get the benefits of tactility with the benefits of touch."

RIM has traditionally targeted business professionals, and its devices dominate the business market for handsets, but recently the company has begun to move toward more consumer-oriented products. Earlier this year it introduced the Bold, which had a larger screen and access to faster third-generation cellular networks. The company also introduced a flip-phone in September.

But it is the Storm that is widely expected to compete with Apple's iPhone, which has sold in the millions since it was introduced in the summer of 2007.

In Canada that competition will be even more direct because of the relationship the handset makers will have with cellphone carriers. The Storm will be available in Canada on Bell and Telus networks later this fall, while the iPhone is only available through Rogers and its Fido brand.

With files from the Canadian Press