James Trescothick Chief Global Strategist, easyMarkets
James Trescothick Chief Global Strategist, easyMarkets

Trading and apps - a potted history

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, wallet and keys would have been top of the list of essentials when heading out of the house. These days (for most people) mobile phone is now at the top of that list. 

First Published: e-Forex Magazine 76 / Memory Lane / June, 2017

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, wallet and keys would have been top of the list of essentials when heading out of the house. These days (for most people) mobile phone is now at the top of that list. 

There are any number of reasons why our phones have become the item that we are most likely to panic about if we leave them behind. The ability to make phone calls is just the tip of the iceberg – many people also use their phones for emails, directions, making payments, checking store opening times, keeping an eye on the news and keeping in touch with their company while on the move. All thanks to a brilliantly inspired little creation known as the ‘app.’

Life before apps

It wasn’t that long ago that we (somehow) managed to exist without carrying around the ability to access millions of apps in our bags and pockets. Communicating, finding ways from one location to another, staying informed of world events, playing games and reading books were all possible before the app – but its invention has changed the way that we approach all of these (and myriad additional) tasks. 

It was only as recently as the 1990s that the app in its modern form was conceived. The first generation of mobile phones were essentially glorified walkie talkies that worked over long distances, but the advent of 2G meant that we could begin to communicate in a new way. SMS (or text messaging) opened up a host of new possibilities. At the same time, new methods of payment such as prepaid mobile phone services, meant that mobile ownership had suddenly become more affordable and more widespread. 

Introducing the smartphone

IBM released the innovative IBM Simon in 1994, which was the world’s first smartphone. As well as offering a telephone service, the IBM Simon’s ‘features’ (which were the first form of mobile apps) enabled it to function as a pager and a fax machine. It also included personal digital assistant (PDA) functionality, including a clock, a notepad, a calculator, an address book and email connectivity. 

As well as laying the foundations for apps as we recognise them today, the IBM Simon was also the first mobile phone to have a touchscreen. The device was truly revolutionary and inspired many to start thinking big when it came to the services that we could carry around in our pockets (although with the Simon measuring 20 x 6.4 x 3.8 cm, they had to be pretty big pockets back in the early 1990s!). Despite the hefty price tag ($899 with a two-year service contract), the IBM Simon sold 50,000 units in the six months before it was discontinued in 1995. 

First generation mobile phones were essentially glorified walkie talkies
First generation mobile phones were essentially glorified walkie talkies

The revolution begins

The revolutionary possibilities of the Simon had paved the way for a new era of mobile phones. By 1995, these devices were being hailed as ‘smartphones,’ with mobile phones now providing a broad package of services. 

In 1997, those services began to include games for the first time. Nokia began the trend, putting the classic 1976 arcade game Snake on the majority of its devices. Incredibly simple and highly addictive, Snake meant that mobile phones had suddenly become entertainment machines, on top of their other functions. Boring bus journeys, waiting in queues, even trips to the bathroom had suddenly become a lot more interesting! (Two decades later, there are now more than 300 Snake-style games available through the App Store. There’s even a ‘retro’ Snake version that brings the wonderfully quaint graphics of the 1997 Nokia game flooding back.)

The app explosion

A decade after Nokia’s stroke of genius, the app explosion began in earnest, with the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Apple’s reinvention of the smartphone, with its stylish touchscreen and downloadable ‘apps’ was a marketing dream come true. 1.4 million iPhones were purchased in 2007 and Apple has (largely) gone from strength to strength since then (just over 200 million iPhones were sold in 2016).  

Apple’s innovative approach and slick technology had the world swooning at its corporate feet. Its apps (entire programs created specifically for smartphone users) were access via tiny icons on the touchscreen – it had visual appeal, worked differently to other phones, was easy to use and was perfect for use on the go.  

With the public wholeheartedly embracing them, apps spread like wildfire. The way we communicate was changed forever. From texting apps like Whatsapp to video chat apps like FaceTime, the ability to communicate in new ways over the internet meant that keeping in touch had never been easier… or cheaper. Today, the largest communications apps account for some 215 million users. SMS text messaging is still available, but the number of those using it pales into insignificance when compared with those who have embraced texting apps. 

Today, the largest communications apps account for some 215 million users.
Today, the largest communications apps account for some 215 million users.

The big boys join the game

Once Apple’s iPhone took off, the future of apps was assured. Companies around the world raced to publish their own apps, turning their content into pocket-sized, mobile-friendly versions of their sites. Major players like Amazon, Facebook and YouTube were quick off the mark when it came to producing their own, freely downloadable apps. Where the big boys led, smaller companies followed. Today, your business isn’t complete if it doesn’t have its own app. 

With new apps rapidly creating a crowded marketplace, ‘app stores’ were created in order that customers could search for the apps they wanted. The two largest are Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store for Android apps. Between them, the two stores offer access to an incredible five million apps. 
Whether you want to play a game, book a haircut, pursue your passion for photography, exercise, improve your mental health, control your central heating, learn a language, chat with your friends or become a day trader, there’s an app to help you. Some 268 million app downloads are projected to occur in 2017. 

Apps for traders

Everyone’s smartphone is set up to cater to their personal interests and preferences. For traders, that means having access to the very latest market information and reports, as well as the ability to buy and sell directly from their phone. Their daily needs include instant access to data and the ability to act on it without delay. 

Markets never sleep. Although traders do (sometimes), they still need 24/7 access to their trading accounts in order to use them at a moment’s notice. The markets wait for no man (or woman), so immediate access at any time of day or night is a core, non-negotiable component of a decent trading app.  

IBM released the innovative IBM Simon in 1994
IBM released the innovative IBM Simon in 1994

The unseen future

A generation ago, the proliferation of apps would have been unimaginable. Two generations ago, even a flat screen television would have seemed like an incredibly futuristic idea. One can only imagine where technology will take us next, and how apps will evolve over the next five, ten and 20 years, and with technological singularity predicted to occur at around 2040, all bets are off. 

In the immediate future, apps look set to continue becoming an integral part of our daily lives. It is believed that there will be 25 billion app developers by 2020, with increasing numbers of IT-literate individuals drawn into app creation by the technological challenge and the potential for lucrative returns. Existing apps will develop and change, and new apps will be introduced that further shift the way we communicate and live our everyday lives. 

We have already become reliant on those little icons and the mobile-friendly programs that sit behind them. We use them to earn money, to build and maintain relationships, to educate ourselves and our children, to shop, to stay in shape, to guide what we eat and to enjoy our leisure time (and for a million other daily activities). As apps continue to proliferate, they look set to dominate our lives more and more. After all, can you picture getting through a single day without using an app? 

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