What is the point of the BBC micro:bit mobile app?

I had another go with the BBC/Samsung micro:bit mobile app this week – and I’m afraid I was left wondering what the point of it is.

Now, I should admit I spent no more than an hour playing with it, mainly because I had to borrow the mobile devices as my own phone won’t run the app.

First I tried again with the Android version of the app on a Motorola Moto G phone, with an old and a fresh micro:bit, newly-flashed with some block code. And neither micro:bit would pair with Moto G phone after numerous attempts. I gave up. The reviews on Google Play are now littered with people who had similar Android pairing problems, so I know I am not alone with this.

Next I tried the iOS version of the micro:bit app on an iPhone 5C. This would pair with the exact same micro:bits, suggesting the Android app may not work with all phones – perhaps it only works with Samsung products since it’s their app?

I managed to write and flash some code from the basic block editor on the iPhone to the micro:bit, but I found using the block editor very fiddly on a phone screen – I think you need something tablet-sized at least.

There were two problems: the buttons to compile the code got easily lost off the top of the screen and were hard to get back to; and on my first attempt I could not edit the text in the ‘show string’ block – though this did work normally on a later attempt.

The compiling process does work for the block editor on an iPhone, though it’s not quite seamless. You get presented with this screen:

You then click on ‘open in micro:bit’ and then you can flash the HEX file to the micro:bit over Bluetooth. But man, is it slow! I mean, really slow, much slower than flashing over USB.

I had less luck with the official Python editor on the iPhone. When you compile the code you get an error message that makes sense on a desktop computer, but not a phone. You then get an error message saying the file cannot be downloaded.

Now struggling to find a reason to use the mobile app, I tried to write some block code to trigger an event on the phone:

I may have been doing something wrong, but even with the camera app open on the phone I couldn’t get it to trigger an event (other than displaying the words ‘say cheese’).

So: writing code on mobile devices is fiddly, pairing devices seems to be a lottery, and it’s very slow to transfer code. Add to this the fact that we are told only ever to power micro:bits from batteries or a computer’s USB port, and I am really struggling to see the point of the app, especially if you are powering the micro:bit from a computer that is easier to code on and faster to transfer the files.

If you have had better (similar, or worse) experiences with the mobile app, please let me know!

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10 Responses to What is the point of the BBC micro:bit mobile app?

  1. Rory says:

    I’m too struggling with the phone app on iPhone 6S. The JavaScript view simply won’t show you enough of the screen to even hit compile but using the block editor I an at least getting stuff done. My issue is also making the code change anything on the phone. Like you the camera, but also any other command. Does anyone know what I’m doing wrong?

  2. Malc says:

    Samsung app won’t install on my Samsung Galaxy phone, nor on a Hudl2 tablet running Android 5.1 (BBC site says it should run on Hudl2 and Android 4.4 onwards. Simple camera routine in Touch Develop runs fine in preview but no effect on a tablet paired/bonded with micro:bit. Email to microbitinfo@bbc.co.uk unanswered (other than auto-reply) after almost 3 weeks. Not impressed.

  3. Ian says:

    Same problem here – pairing eventually set up but interaction with the phone camera over bluetooth doesn’t work at all. I’m a software engineer so am reasonably sure I’m not anything too stupid!

    These things are supposed to be easy for kids to use. What the kids are learning is just how ropey our industry is so far! :-/

  4. Jane says:

    Thank you – I googled this for my 14 year old who has tried and tried to get his moto G to work with his microbit – no joy. He asks ‘am I better working with pins?

  5. DIane says:

    Nice to see you had simular problems to me, so it’s probably the Android phone and not me!

  6. Joe Wilkinson says:

    As it is the Samsung App is very flaky.
    It does pair to the microbit. However when I flash a VERY SIMPLE program to the microbit, apart from taking ages, the App seems to disconnect immediately. So it is then necessary to go to Settings to unpair and re-pair. And then what I understand are Bluetooth capabilities, telling the phone to prepare the camera for a photo, and then take a picture remotely, don’t work. I have seen descriptions of people doing this with simple code which I have copied and it doesn’t work. So a pretty useless process.

  7. sunshinenbrick says:

    Exactly the same problems as everyone else… computer lecturer and was hoping to use this for getting college students to create some cool scripts, but no. I managed to get it to set off an alarm however the app seems to be where the bugs are. Perhaps a permissions issue? I have yet to try on a rooted phone and am not keen on doing it on any of my devices (yet…)

    C’mon BBC/Samsung/Google get it together… or maybe as someone else suggested it is just an example of the states of industry at the moment. Which will probably what I will end up having to tell me students it seems.

    • sunshinenbrick says:

      UPDATE: Well I may have found a fix… by accident. Browsing I realised there numerous versions of TouchDevelop and BlockEditor with various and sometimes unique APIs. Anyway I found the following version of BlockEditor:

      https://pxt.microbit.org/

      Yes it isn’t TouchDevelop but seems to work better and with less bugs. Which seems somewhat counter-intuitive (or perhaps not…) but whatever as long as it works. Furthermore I tried to open the hex in Touch to try see what was going on but it will not let you. Interesting, may try look further into it in the future but have not the time now really. Hope this helps other anyway. Ciao for now!

      • sunshinenbrick says:

        P.S. To use ‘Devices’ and ‘Bluetooth’ you may have to go to ‘Add Package’ under Advanced…

      • sunshinenbrick says:

        Block Editor uses JavaScript so it must be less buggy than… C++ or whatever Touch Develop is based on.

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