Debate Speech Timer Using Phonegap

I made a simple Speech Timer app for use by competitive British parliamentary debaters with my brother Sam in the last few weeks.

The app provides specialized timing assistance to debaters, judges and timekeepers on their android or iOS device via a debate-speech tailored interface.


Competetive debating sees thousands of young people practice structured spoken argumentation around the world each week in tournaments like the Belgrade European Championship shown below.

With emerging charities like DebateMate the activity has even attracted the interest of people like Stephen Fry. There’s even an emerging community of people analyzing the game theory of debates (e.g.

(For more details see this guide)


Debating involves each participant giving 5 or 7 minute speeches throughout the tournament which need to be timed in line with the structure of a speech (pdf).


There are three types of person who time debate speeches:

Timer Concept

James Dixon, a competitive debater from my old society at the MDU mentioned that it would be good to create a mobile app which optionally could output “debate bangs” sounds at the appropriate moments while timing a competitive debate.

It Begins…

We had never coded anything together before but decided we’d collaborate on James’ idea using a bitbucket private repository until we decided what to do with the code. Sam took on the android project and I took on the iOS one, using phoneGap for shared code.

I chatted to sam and suggested we use MVC and the factory pattern. We decided to use setInterval for the update/refresh callbacks and use new Date() as the source of time.

Sam immediately began learning js and phoneGap so he could start building a the timer controller.

Design v1.0

I started with a loose list of functions required I used google drawings so we could collaborate and share the original designs:

Design 2.0

I showed the v1.0 designs to my wife Jennifer Morrow who is a professional UX designer. She gave some feedback and I refined the flow into v2.0:

Project Structure

We used git submodules and four separate repos to modularize the code. I quickly realized we needed a shell script to synchronize the submodules with each major change:

git pull
pushd DebateTimer/iOS-repo/project2/www/src
git pull
pushd DebateTimer/iOS-repo/
git pull
git add .
git commit -m "sync iOS"
git push origin master
pushd DebateTimer/android-repo/assets/www/src
git pull origin master
pushd DebateTimer/android-repo/
git pull origin master
git add .
git commit -m "sync android"
git push origin master
pushd DebateTimer/www-repo
git pull origin master
popd $FOLDER
git add .
git commit -m "sync master repo"
git push origin master

This complexity is annoying and I’ll probably use a different modular strategy in the future.


We quickly realized we’d want a templating technique and I did some research. It was clear that Mustache has become the de facto lightweight templating standard so I choose IcanHaz.js. In a fit of architectural obsession I then flirted with Chevron for a morning before finding that offline apps do not play nice with ajax requests. I moved back to ICanHaz.js and sucked up the issue of having our ‘partials’ in the main code.

Working Prototype

Launch browser based prototypee (the timer has been sped up to help test and demo).

Next steps

I’m going to try and get this on a few people’s phones to test at tournaments in the next week. I’ll update with progress in a new post soon.