Mobile trading apps close the gap with desktop alternative

But while the technology is advancing rapidly, more sophisticated traders should be aware of the limitations

THE DAYS when traders were confined to their home computer terminal are over. Mobile applications, in the past offering little more than price updates, are increasingly allowing traders to perform many of the most sophisticated trading tasks on smartphones and tablets. But while the advances have been stark, there are still certain areas where desktops remain essential.

Probably the sharpest improvement to mobile apps in recent years has been the provision of increasingly advanced analytical tools. Mobile applications were once primarily concerned with up-to-date news feeds, allowing traders to keep an eye on the markets while away from their desktop set-up. But it is now possible to spot trends and perform advanced technical analysis on smartphones and tablets.

Evgenia Chausheva of DF Markets says that “developers are constantly pushing the capabilities of mobile platforms. The charting performance has caught up with desktops in many respects.” Key areas where the gap has been closed include live chart streaming, the wide range of formats available (candlestick, bar, line and many more) and, crucially, the provision of technical indicators. ActivTrade’s app has 14 of these, ranging from the essential moving-average measure to more advanced oscillator analysis, with other firms offering similar amounts.

Craig Inglis of CMC Markets says that “we have stepped up the provision of chart analysis as people have become more comfortable with touchscreens.” But he admits that the “hardcore traders will still prefer the analytical capabilities of desktops.”

“Given the screen size of mobiles, it is dangerous to make them too complicated and fiddly,” says William Nicholls of Capital Spreads. Chausheva, meanwhile, points out that “it’s much easier to draw on charts using a mouse, rather than trying to do this with your fingers.” Traders who rely heavily on making their own trend lines may want to avoid charting on iPhones, for example.

Brett Evans of ETX Capital says that “the ability to look at multiple large charts simultaneously is currently lacking on most mobile platforms”. CMC Markets does offer a four-way split-screen on the iPad app, but the screen size could present a difficulty. Inglis suggests that the function works better for noticing changes than lengthly analysis. While the technology is constantly improving, the more specialist technical analysts may be better off with their desktops for now.

Many of the latest wave of mobile trading apps (from the likes of Alpari) offer “one-click trading”, meaning orders can be opened and closed instantaneously. The majority also provide “straight from chart trading”, allowing users to buy and sell without leaving the chart they are looking at or losing any trend lines drawn. And these fast-paced trading functions do not have to detract from risk management. IG, City Index, ETX Capital and others make it easy to set stop and limit orders as well as “if done” and “one cancels the other” functions.

But an important limitation is the lack of some of the more visual risk management tools. Inglis points out that “many traders like to be able to set stop limits visually, while looking at a chart for the product they are trading.” Current smartphone and tablet apps, however, largely force users to navigate away from the chart to access the risk management functions.

Further, and perhaps more seriously, Chausheva says that “you cannot create automatic trading scripts on a phone or tablet, since they require the device to be left running, draining the battery in no time.” Those who use trading platforms such as MT4 to create their own automated trading scripts may find the mobile battery life limiting.

All the leading trading companies – from established names such as IG and City Index to newer faces on the market – are investing heavily in adapting their platforms to a new age of mobile trading. While the most specialist technical analysts may perhaps find some aspects limiting, an increasing number of essential trading tasks can now be performed away from the desktop terminal.