John Morris is the lead developer and CTO for StockTouch, an innovative financial market data visualization app that is currently the #1 paid financial app in the iTunes Store.
StockTouch’s groundbreaking data visualization interface has received widespread attention from the media and from Apple, who have selected StockTouch as one of the few apps to be loaded on all iPads and iPhones in their Apple Stores worldwide. We recently sat down with John to learn more about him and the development process behind StockTouch.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background?
John Morris – I’ve been programming since 1981, mostly as a contractor. My primary focus has been the gaming industry, mainly for two reasons. First, I love games! But perhaps more importantly, game development requires optimizing code at all levels in order to ensure good performance. It’s a challenge I enjoy taking on.
Q: How did you get involved with StockTouch?
John Morris – I learned about the StockTouch project through a mutual friend. I joined the project initially as a consultant to build the prototype. As everything came together, I was offered and accepted a position as the co-founder and CTO of StockTouch.
Q: How is the development process for StockTouch structured?
John Morris – The StockTouch team is completely virtual with the core members in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. There are actually only two of us who are involved on the coding side of StockTouch. I work on the client side, and we have a contractor who works on the server side. We also work very closely with the other members of the team that deal with the overall user experience and feature set.
To build StockTouch, I was initially given just six screenshots, but we always had a pretty clear vision of what we wanted to do. We wanted the app to have a very intuitive interface with a fluid user experience. As a game developer, I personally wanted the application to offer a superior and unique visual experience, backed by extremely powerful features. StockTouch performs its rendering via OpenGL, and we really push the graphical capabilities of the iPad to deliver a cutting-edge experience.
Q: How difficult was the transition to the iOS platform?
John Morris – I’ve been building iOS products since 2008, so it wasn’t an issue for me. For programmers unfamiliar with iOS, transitioning to the platform is not very easy—there’s a steep learning curve involved. There are hurdles to development, such as the preferred language being Objective C, dealing with a new set of APIs and navigating the performance and memory limitations. That said, if you manage to get past the learning curve, it provides a very powerful and robust platform.
Q: Any advice for iOS developers?
John Morris – I think a lot of developers are getting it wrong when they try to build for iOS. They just try to push versions of desktop applications out. Developers need to look at the platform as a whole. It’s a different paradigm. The usability is totally different from a desktop or a laptop. The touch and gesture features are very powerful tools. They define the iOS experience, so you have to think in terms of the mobile environment.
Q: How did the Xignite Cloud APIs help you?
John Morris – Our forte is the front end. We’re a small company and wanted to stay lean. Xignite is our one stop shop for all the financial market data we need. The main advantage Xignite offered us was that the market data is already sitting in a large persistent database.
We just make web service calls, parse it and then pass the data on to our users. That reduced our requirements for the server side, enabling us to shorten our development timelines. Plus, working with a single data source with a solid and consistent API structure is definitely a good thing.
Q: How do you plan to meet the requirements of your fast growing customer base?
John Morris – For a financial application, the primary concern is ensuring that users get access to timely financial market data the instant they want to see it.
To address this, we have implemented several custom compression/encoding algorithms. This ensures that our data is distributed in a timely fashion and we can meet the requirements of a large and growing user base.
Q: What are StockTouch’s plans for the future?
John Morris – Going forward, we plan to beef up the application. We would like to add more analytical features, statistics like alpha, beta and candlestick charts. New security classes such as ETFs are on the way as well. We’re also looking to add layers of personalization so that users can view analytics specifically related to their own portfolios.
Ultimately, our goal is to come up with a suite of financial applications, based on our data visualization competency, that are easy to use and help spread financial awareness for both professional and non-professional users.