Can You Make Dumb Trades on a Smartphone?

Your financial future can fit in the palm of your hand.

Is this a good thing?

E*Trade (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) is introducing E*Trade Mobile Pro this morning, a software platform that will give BlackBerry users the same features-rich access to their discount trading account that they currently have on their desktops.

Neat? Let's see.

Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone comes with a "Stocks" icon, providing stock quotes and cleverly pre-populated with the tickers for Apple, stateside provider AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , and the phone's search engine partners as a starting point.

Neat? Again, let's see.

I am all for the convenience of access to information. I can't imagine what life was like before I had a Web-tethered smartphone, which I can use to look up baseball scores, find weather updates, and end any "are you sure so-and-so was in that movie" debates. So why am I not entirely elated that CrackBerry addicts will be able to peck away at their tiny keyboards as they trade in and out of their investments? I guess my concern comes from the potential for skimping on due diligence.

Buy, sell, or “please hold”
Smartphone users have access to market research. I just wonder how patient they will be, given the notoriously slow loading times for Web pages on many smartphones. I also wonder how many potential shareholders will be able to truly grasp the big picture using such small screens.

I'm not suggesting that screen size is the biggest factor in dictating market success. If it were, WebTV subscribers would have all been billionaires. However, are most people really using their Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerrys or Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) Treos as their exclusive source for term-paper research, house-hunting, or even online comparison shopping? They are? Really?

Screens keep getting smaller, especially with the surging popularity of mini laptops that would fit in a Paris Hilton pooch bag. I'm all for evolution and paperback-sized portability. I'm just wondering if wireless-cell-phone users -- who are so used to cutting corners that even words lose letters in the text-messaging process -- are the best group to make "by, cel, hld" calls on the fly.

If the phones are smart, the traders should be, too
As a data junkie, I love many of the features in the E*Trade Mobile Pro solution. If I had a BlackBerry (which I don't) or an active E*Trade account (which I don't), I would be all over this, given the easy-click access to account information, portfolio balances, and real-time quotes.

There are no additional charges for the platform, so this is going to be a great feature when it goes live next month (it is in beta right now).

Discounters have always been on the leading edge of online trading. I consider myself one of the earliest clickers. Back in the early 1990s, before Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW  ) launched its trading website, I was buying and selling through a special interface on the now defunct GEnie online network. It wasn't just a matter of convenience. It was also a way to get a 10% price break on commissions.

The discounters have come a long way since then. Schwab, E*Trade, and TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) offer lavish trading platforms, complete with the deep dives into research that help investors make informed trading decisions.

I hope that the new generation of smartphone investors doesn't settle for shallow dives. Individual investors have come a long way. Two decades ago, the little guy was pushed around by broker-controlled market data and selective disclosure. Now that the Internet has helped tear down the walls, the level playing field gives anybody willing to roll up those sleeves and commit to due diligence an edge in beating the market.

Let's not roll down the sleeves. Your financial future really does fit in the palm of your hand these days. Handle with care.

More Foolishness:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz believes in self-service gasoline pumps and self-service stock brokerages. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2008, at 4:49 PM, tycoon24 wrote:

    You asked if most people are really using their BlackBerrys or Palm Treos as their "exclusive source" for online needs. While "exclusive" is a bit extreme, I personally take the city bus to work every day, half hour each way, a full hour round trip. For a full hour each day there's a good chance I'm online, using my cell phone. I'm either reading news related material or looking for stock market information, ticker news, etc. I'm doing my Due Diligence, if you will.

    Because I am a E*Trade customer I can tell you the data they provide to me online is superb; in my opinion, it's very difficult to have access to the high-end tools provided by E*Trade anywhere else on the internet. (I suppose you could pay for it, but why?) Now I can look up stock related information -- for the hour I am on a bus every day -- using the same amazing yet free tools I prefer when on a computer. Not only that, unless I am mistaken, cell phones have not been "hacked" yet (no spyware has been created to infect a phone), and they are actually safer online than surfing on a PC or Mac too.

    So if BlackBerry's using 3G service (or Wi-Fi) can handle the speed requirements to satisfy customer needs; if customer's are worried about online security; in my opinion, the best way to trade is [now] on your BlackBerry! And it won't deter this investor from doing his due diligence, it'll only enhance my experience when doing some of it on the bus. But hey, I'm only one of millions of other people with a cell phone, but my one hour bus ride to work every day... this could be a rare thing. Although, maybe not. And now all of us who have the time and want the best investment tools with us everywhere we go, we have a side-kick named E*Trade Mobile Pro (well, soon). I can't wait!

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