Why is the BBC making a pocket computer?

The BBC unveiled the final product of a highly-anticipated tech scheme Tuesday called the Micro Bit, a pocket-sized computer hoping to teach children how to code.

The latest Micro Bit, around the size of a credit card and featuring LED lights, will be able to be used across different computing devices, including tablets, smartphones, and PCs.

A million schoolchildren across the United Kingdom will be getting their hands on a hot new computing device come October, and unlike in Los Angeles, it won’t be the latest iPad.

The BBC unveiled Tuesday the product of a long-anticipated tech initiative called the Micro Bit, demonstrating to the British public how children will soon be able to code with a computer the size of a credit card.

In hopes of getting young people programming, the BBC partnered with more than 25 tech companies to create the Micro Bit. They have distinguished the mini computer from popular devices like the Raspberry Pi as a simpler, “stripped-down gadget designed to make it easy for kids to start writing their own code,” reported The Christian Science Monitor. “At which point they may move on to the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or another more complex device.”

The Micro Bit boasts a Bluetooth antenna, motion sensor, red LED lights, and the ability to write code (Python, C++, and Microsoft's TouchDevelop) in a basic text-editing or graphical program, which students can then import to their tablets or computers using a USB.

It was made to be pocket-sized and light enough to fasten to students’ clothing, reported the Monitor in May.

But the latest updates, which include the removal of a battery slot seen in a previous prototype, mean users will need to strap on an additional power pack, according to the BBC.

“It's seen as being an echo of the very successful BBC Micro which gave many people an introduction to computers in the 1980s, and the hope is that it will inspire the next generation of tech pioneers,” wrote BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

The Micro Bit is the latest response to a reported shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills among British students. “We all know there's a critical and growing digital skills gap in this country and that's why it's so important that we come together and do something about it,” Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, told reporters at a launch event in London.

The program aims to foster the development of projects such as computer games and smartphone apps. And looking at the latest data, it would appear that the UK could afford to become more competitive.

When it comes to apps, for one, the country has a strong market, according to a recent report compiled by App Annie, an app analytics firm. And British users churn out the fourth-highest number of app downloads and amount of revenue in the world.

But among the top apps used globally, American and Chinese companies like Google and Tencent currently reign supreme, according to App Annie rankings. Of the top 10 apps used in the UK, British developers only make three. 

While the Micro Bit is currently only available to the UK's million sixth-graders, it will be made for sale through a non-profit company by the end of the year, according to the BBC.

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