A simple disclaimer before I start: I'm not a numbers type and have never set foot on a trading floor. That didn't stop the guys from Visible Market from approaching me to review their award-winning financial intelligence app. That week, Apple just had announced the new iPad and they got a coveted mention on Tim Cook's keynote — one of the best promotional pushes you could think of. Unfortunately, I had sold my old iPad already and promised to myself I would only test the app with a new Retina machine. I thought at the time this app would be enjoyed on a big display. Some weeks later with the news of the economy cracking due to Spain's budgetary issues, I realized it was the right time to write up my review.
StockTouch is a nifty visualisation tool of stock markets. It packs loads of information on different visual metaphors that are novel yet extremely familiar for those using Microsoft Excel all day long — the classic conditional formatting for cells you see going from dark red to bright green.
If you're he owner of an iPad you're probably familiar with coffee table book apps: sometimes plain reproductions of books, sometimes interactive scans. The idea is that they're a fantastic entertainment options before that relaxing nap on the sofa. The swipe interactions and the lightness of the device is calling for a siesta and a coffee right now. StockTouch plays to the advantages of the device and goes for this relaxed exploratory approach.
Making financial information more touchable
Notice how I stress the relaxation factor before even talking about the app. This is because I think my Canary Wharf colleagues need to use their iPads to chill out and stop reading their Times subscription during their commute. In sympathy, I extend my wish to Wall Street and traders around the world.
StockTouch is all about data visualisation. Dividing the screen in nine parts isn't just a way to break up information, but a way to group industry sectors together. If you want to see consumer goods, you get the clear picture thanks to its spiral organisation. This means that the center has the most influential stock in the sector while the other 99 surround it until reaching the edges. I'm not sure if this is a typical representation of data you can see anywhere else but I bet it's quite original and tailored to the touch screen device — every stock is turned into a finger-sized button.
The way everything is presented makes the initial navigation overwhelming. There are tutorials available but I recommend diving straight in. You can always return with the pinch gesture you normally use to zoom out on photos or maps.
There isn't any sorting as such, so the only way to organise information is using the right hand navigation toolbar. If the spiral representation isn't for you, you can always go for a more linear setup arranging the stocks by market cap, gain, volume or alphabetical order. The app plots the graphs virtually instantly and after the initial launch screen there's very little waiting to it. Of course, you can update the information manually with the refresh button any time you need.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I'm not trading expert. I just can tell you what the stock view shows and you tell me if this is something you need on a daily basis. All I can say is that the information is laid out elegantly with a flair of Windows Metro interface that gives it a very strong personality.
Keeping the app running at you desk could give a new purpose to your old iPad
This might not be the optimal way you normally use to spot those key indicators. This is, nonetheless a very visual arrangement, the extra tool you might want to have next to your Bloomberg terminal. If you take your iPad to work, you might as well have it resting on a stand with this app running as a default.
StockTouch succeeds at allowing users to explore the market having an understanding of the big picture to what's happening right now and how it was up to five years ago. The app includes press clippings from online sources that might help to understand what's behind a rise or decrease. I understand this sort of intelligence is paid in professional environments, so having this type insight in within the App Store's pricing model is quite an achievement.
Having said this, the main criticism is its limited market scope — it's focused to US investors with top 100 US and 100 global. An update or the option to have this app working with data from other markets would be an absolute win and would open its doors in a very niche set of users. This sound like an opportunity for in-app purchases or subscriptions to keep the service running.
During my basic testing I couldn't help to notice that the app has a poor support of multitasking, having to reset and display the loading screen every time you leave it to check an email or something else. A better behaviour would be reloading with the old data and prompting the user to refresh the info manually. It also seems to be quite clunky remembering the last screen you were using and going back to the presets.
Don't let these criticisms stop you from trying it. StockTouch is a fantastic effort to bring more clarity and why not, fun, to an industry that has been traditionally cryptic and reserved for a few. The app uses a very solid concept and swears by it, giving you the confidence you need to explore vast amounts of information following an order that will soon become very familiar. I don't see StockTouch as a threat to paid-for desktop solutions you should be familiar with. No. This is an attempt to take this information in a manageable way everywhere at the touch of your finger. Installing the app on the iPhone can make it a good companion but I genuinely think StockTouch is enjoyed better on a stand at your desk, peeking and exploring killing those seconds while your on hold on the phone. I don't normally get out of my routine to test finance apps and this is my recommendation. It's been praised before and I can see the potential from a mile away. Do you?