Research conducted by a team at the University of Washington examined a number of smartphone apps used to track the menstrual cycle — including Clue, Eve, Glow, Period Tracker and Pink Pad — and found that many apps were not as accurate or user-friendly as they could be.
Data were gathered from 2,000 reviews of popular period-tracking apps on the Android Market and the Apple App Store. Also, 687 people were surveyed and over a dozen interviews were conducted to gain a better understanding of why people track their periods. Participants were asked about their preferences regarding specific characteristics of various period tracking apps, and with every single app, there was found to be room for improvement.
Women reported that some apps are not accurate in regards to predicting their menstrual cycles, especially women with irregular periods. Many of these apps don’t allow for users to make any sort of corrections or input an explanation for why their period may have arrived late, such as a change in birth control.
This lack of accuracy is alarming as many women turn to the apps for fertility predictions, and many teenagers use the apps to flag the days in the month when they are least likely to become pregnant.
“That’s pretty disconcerting because accuracy can be a problem with these apps,” co-author Julie Kientz told STAT, adding that there are serious implications that come with not knowing the limitations of each app.
Another big complaint from participants was the use of stereotypical designs by many apps that suggest obsolete assumptions about sexual identity and preference. Many of the apps feature a flowery pink design with large pink dots marking dates on the calendar. People interviewed by the researchers indicated that this design scheme made it uncomfortable and awkward to open up the app in public. Furthermore, the iconography and wording of the apps usually refer to the users as female and their sexual partners as male, which excludes users in same-sex relationships, transgender users or users with nonbinary gender identities.
The research team hopes that app developers will use their findings to improve their products: allowing users to provide feedback to improve accuracy, using gender-neutral interfaces and taking into account that a user’s menstrual tracking need may change over time.