Demise of the Desktop?
What is the prognosis for the desktop computer now that mobile trading is on the rise, asks Kevin Rose. Almost all retail trading was transacted over the telephone 15 years ago. Then people started using the internet as a means to trade. However, fast lines were extremely expensive: a 1Mb ‘T1’ leased line would typically cost £20,000 per annum. Of course, the rollout of broadband changed all that. Coupled with advances in processing power, a spreadbetter in the early noughties had sufficient technology at their disposal to make rapid trades.
Then came what has been dubbed ‘the mobile revolution’ in trading. Driven by the Apple iPhone, the App Store, the iPad and then Android devices, the mobile trading space is now booming. For example, IG has seen a massive increase in mobile trading by its clients in recent years. Around 25% of its trades are now placed via a mobile device, up from 5% just two years ago.
Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at the firm, explains that now hardware, software and networks are all sufficiently advanced, mobile cannot be ignored. “Larger screens and greater processing power means that clients can now trade wherever they are, and crucially the improved reliability of apps means that they can access their trades as and when, knowing that they will not be stuck without access during times of high volatility,” he says.
According to Craig Inglis, co-head of product development at CMC Markets, charting and user interface changes have blurred the lines between desktop and mobile trading. “It is now possible to add in many advanced features into mobile platform that were once only possible with a desktop’s CPU power,” he says.
He adds that the way that spreadbetters are trading is changing: “People want the flexibility to be able to trade on the move and react quickly to market movements.” Brokers and platform providers take the mobile space very seriously. For instance, IG has a team of around 20 developers whose sole focus is mobile/app development.
Ingils says the major advantage to mobile is “anytime, anywhere access, even in a work meeting or away from your desk clients can be plugged into the markets and their trading platform as never before.
“On the downside, sometimes it can be hard to switch off from trading during your spare time, opportunities can be any time any place now and that same easy access can sometimes make you more of a full time trader than you expected.”
Demise of the Desktop
IG’s Beauchamp doesn’t believe the mobile device will completely see off the PC or laptop, however. “Despite the impressive growth [of mobile trading], clients still need their PCs/ laptops,” he says.
“While we have excellent charting facilities on our mobile apps, many will still prefer to take decisions in front of larger screens where they can take their time to consider their options. Screen sizes have come a long way, but the handheld nature of phones means that there is a limitation on chart sizes.”
Inglis concurs: “As always, it is the size of the trading screen that is the main restriction, as time goes on tablets and smart phones will be as powerful as desktop computers but for many pro traders there is no substitute for large screen trading and analysis.”
Similarly, mobile apps are self-contained programs which are run in isolation. Currently, there is no opportunity to buy and run an ‘expert adviser’ or ‘robot’ piece of software which are available in their thousands for the desktop MetaTrader 4 platform, for example.
Nevertheless, providers anticipate nothing but growth in the popularity of mobile trading apps over the next few years and are planning accordingly. “We will be aiming to include more of our news and analysis sections on mobile devices, to give clients access to even more information to aid their trading,” says Beauchamp.
Others are designing different apps for different devices to take advantage of each device’s strengths. City Index, for example, offers different solutions for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. “Tablet platforms such as the iPad offer one of the best mobile experiences available,” says Inglis. “CMC Markets’ iPad app has substantially increased capabilities to iPhone, which was already very comprehensive.
“We expect see huge increases in clients using the iPad as their primary/secondary platform over the next 24 months.”