iPhone App Review: techBASIC

iPhone App Review: techBASIC

October 23rd, 2011 by

iOS devices are more than just pocket-sized computers or communication tools. They have a plethora of built-in, sophisticated sensors that would probably have taken up the entire nosecone of a military aircraft just a couple decades ago. The iOS sensors are usually locked under layers of API frippery, so that you can make cool apps like bubble levels and plumb bombs but not necessarily directly access the data and manipulate the readings.

techBASIC by developer Byte Works Inc. gives you a programming environment, complete with a step-and-trace debugger, that allows you access to the iPhone’s suite of sensors so that you can gather data and then plot it graphically in a number of different styles, then manipulate that plot right on your device to explore your findings.  The app comes with several sample programs along with their source code, which you can use and adjust to suit your own needs or simply steal from in order to create something brilliant.

How It Works

The app has five main tabs: Programs, Source, Console, Graphics, and Stack.

Programs and Source are fairly self-explanatory. in the Programs screen is here you view all of the programs written in the app, as well as where you can rename, delete, and create new programs. Source is where you can view the source code for any of the programs (tap the little blue arrow to jump to the source code… if you tap the program name then it will actually run the program itself).

The Console is where console output goes on apps that require it. The magnetometer program for instance samples the magnetic field around the device 10 times per second, and outputs the results to the console once per second. Similarly Graphics is where graphical data plots will appear, such as after using the G-Force program for 10 seconds.

The Stack is where you go when something with your program isn’t quite right. It’s a complete stack-and-trace debugger where you can view the call stack and the contents of any variables. Error messages even pop up in the code to help you pinpoint where a bug might be.

techBASIC also has the ability to send the output of the Graphics panel to the device’s Camera Roll, or email the output from the Console.

Pros And Cons

techBASIC kind of gives you the feeling that you’re messing around somewhere in your device that you don’t belong, which is exciting in its own rebellious way. You would have to have a specific reason to want the information being provided here, but if you do want it, techBASIC seems to have come up with the best way to get it and visualize it.

The developers have done an amazing job of cramming a ton of capability onto such a small screen (the app is Universal so also runs on iPad, if you want a little more wiggle room). Not just with the interface but with the implementation of the language itself. If you strip out all of the comments from the G-Force program you see that it only takes around 23 lines of code to measure the G-Force experienced by the device and plot it on a graph. Other programs are longer but don’t think any of them break 100 lines, even the Stars program that can actually read from a text file (the program creates a detailed star chart, by the way).

A nice feature is the ability to move programs and files on and off of the device through the iTunes file sharing feature. This would let you code on a full-size keyboard and reference external files, then drag it all into the app through iTunes. A nice compliment to that would be the ability to access the app through WiFi sharing so that you could do it without launching iTunes. Byte Works also has a thorough guide not only to the app itself but to the programming language, available on their website in PDF form.

The only issue I came across with the app itself was that it would sometimes simply stop working and require a force quit. By “stop working” I mean that tapping icons and tabs changes screens but I couldn’t get a new program to run. I’m not surprised honestly, given that it’s a complete BASIC programming environment, that it would from time to time take a break. It’s possible too that the app didn’t stop working at all, that it was just experiencing a long delay to run the next program due to some crowded device memory (and I’m simply impatient), but I have no way to be sure.


techBASIC is an exciting way to gather and visualize data from your iOS device’s many built-in sensors. With a little understanding of the BASIC language and some imagination, it’s possible to create and share some fairly sophisticated and exciting programs right on your device. It’s a specialized program for specialized people, but if you’ve read this far then you probably already know if this is something that you’ve been looking for.

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