iPhone trading: Battle of the apps

iPhone trading: Battle of the apps

If you’re not familiar with the world of on-the-go execution, try typing the word ‘trading’ into Apple’s iTunes Store. Any punter doing so can find a plethora of applications for the iPhone permitting just that: Forex Trading, City Trader, FX360, iTrade, DealBook, Forex on the go, finspreads, mobitradeone – and that’s just on the first page. (More colourful titles include The Fast Money Machine and How to Make a Fortune From Options Trading.)

And as anyone who reads London’s morning freesheets can’t have failed to notice, it’s pretty clear who many of these products are being marketed at on this side of the Atlantic. Ad images abound of the young City trader out to dinner with a pneumatic blonde, trading lean pork bellies behind his menu.

But the makers insist that the apps are much more than idle gimmicks or free advertising for their workstation counterparts.

“This is the future,” TradeCapture OTC’s Vinnie Annunziata told FOW last year after the launch of his firm’s commodity trading app, Tap and Trade. “Whether people use my software or somebody else’s, in the next three years every trader and risk manager is going to be using something like this,” he insists. “It’s like sitting at your terminal, but you can be on a train.”

The bulge in your pocket

Even the bulge bracket banks are getting involved. In March, JP Morgan ported a version of its MorganDirect platform to the gadget, allowing armchair traders access to forward, swap and option transactions for some 300 currency pairs.

This is no mere retail investor system either. It contains all the powerful tools – real time execution, fast access to liquidity and straight-through processing – of its institutional bigger brother.

Others have more modest ambitions. “iDASTrader interfaces are designed for the retail investor,” says Karen Gentile, president and CEO of DAS, whose app offers equities, options, futures and forex in a combined platform. “Most broker-dealers don’t have the knowhow and the means to run their own technology. They’re brokers, not technology developers. But DAS’s infrastructure is uniquely designed to work for the most sophisticated of institutions to the least experienced investors.”

So why the sudden burst of activity on this one platform? Perhaps it’s because Apple’s device has one strong competitive advantage: all three incarnations of the iPhone share the same standard size.

“The biggest problem you have for Blackberry apps is you have so many different aspect ratios to deal with,” says Shailander Mangla, developer of Interactive Brokers’ iTWS trading platform. “So it’s harder to get your designers involved. If you give people the bare minimum , it’s not as pleasant to use.”

While BlackBerry appears to be catching up (indeed, DAS Trader’s app appeared on BlackBerry’s platform first), it appears Apple’s immense marketability and user-friendliness has given it the edge for now.

Reaching new users

“We felt it would be an ideal and targeted medium to reach out to the Macintosh/Apple users,” adds Gentile. “Almost all our clients are Windows users. Most retail trading technology is designed for the Windows environment.”

But why should the platform-neutral remote trader choose DAS over the others? “iDASTrader is unique, because it’s the only direct access level two trading app currently available on the app store,” claims Gentile. “It’s the first and only app with streaming real time market data.”

But perhaps users want more than raw speed. Mangla thinks so.

“Access to price mechanisms 24 hour is key,” says Mangla. “For options pricing, this is an exceptionally valuable tool.” Interactive Brokers’ program boasts live price alerts for stocks, options and forex – essential for those reliant on the familiar security of desktop trading programs.

So what does the future hold for remote futures trading? “I’m not sure on-the-go trading is ever going to replace trading in an office, or even a home office,” concludes Mangla. “I would say this is really a complement.”

For others, one senses, the lure of trading from a café in Florence rather than a wet corner of Surrey might prove too hard to resist for much longer.

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