Apple needs to take birth tracking more seriously

FReproductive apps have always been sketchy. As I’ve experienced it, it’s a Faustian bargain: take the chance to choose one of the many options in the app store, and choose the one with the best reviews or the easiest interface. You sign up unsure what to do with the opaque data policy, and then you put up with the flood of targeted ads that come with it – all to accurately predict when you’re most likely to get pregnant. Judging by those ads for maternity clothes and organic cotton bodysuits, someone somewhere knows that I’m either trying to conceive or have had a baby, even if they can’t decide which one. I didn’t like it, but I put up with it.

I’ve been thinking about the topic of period and fertility trackers since I decided I was ready to become a parent, although for the sake of privacy I didn’t think to write this article until after giving birth to that imaginary baby.But in the two months after that politics Comment on draft Dobbs v. Jacksonwhich overturned the constitutionally guaranteed abortion right Roe v WadeA lot of people Been talking about period trackersSome activists and privacy advocates have asked whether the data captured by the apps could be used to help prosecute people seeking abortions in states that don’t allow them. Some are simply advising readers to remove these apps entirely.

I understand why. And I also understand why people use these apps in the first place: because the version of the app built into the smartphone OS is not very good.

In my case, I have an iPhone. I’ve been using period tracking for a few years now, although Apple started introducing these features back in 2015. From the beginning, Apple used to be criticize Slow to move: Some observers wonder why Apple didn’t have the Women’s Health feature ready when it launched the Apple Health app the year before.

In its current form, the app is nice as it accurately predicts when your period is about to come, and it’s easy to record when you’re menstruating from your iOS device or apple watchNot only does this help avoid potential surprises, it also helps to know when your last period started in case your gynecologist asks. (And they always ask.) Also, irregular periods Can sometimes highlight larger health issues.

The fact that Apple doesn’t pay more attention to it when hundreds of millions of people are downloading third-party alternatives is truly surprising: Apple could have that space, if it wanted to.

But in order to do that, Cycle Tracking has to be equally good at helping people get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant. Because ultimately, these users all need the same dataset, the same predictions, regardless of their intent. If you know you’re ovulating and want a baby, you should definitely have sex. The ovulation window is also a useful thing to look out for if you just want to get pregnant.

Here’s what Apple needs to add to its app to match its competitors and build a truly all-in-one period and fertility tracker. (Apple declined to comment for this story.)

Ovulation prediction

Dana Wolman/Engadget

First of all, it must be said that Apple does not try to predict when you will ovulate. You’ll see a six-day fertility window, shaded in blue. But not all fertile days are the same. A person has about a 30% chance of conceiving on or the day before ovulation; five days before, your chance is closer to 10%. Unless you plan to have sex for six days or have been avoiding sex, a six-day fertility window without additional background isn’t very helpful.

Other fertility apps learn from previous cycles to predict how long your typical cycle will be and when you’re likely to ovulate. I’ve seen more than one app show conception odds on a bell graph, and some even show your estimated percentage of success on a given day. Apple can decide for itself how sophisticated the interface it wants, but it definitely has machine learning technology that can predict ovulation based on previous cycles.

correct calendar view

Apple is the only period tracking app I’ve seen that doesn’t offer a grid calendar view. It’s incredible when you remember that everything related to fertility (and later pregnancy) is measured in weeks. Instead, Apple Health displays the date as a single horizontally scrollable line. On my iPhone 12’s 6.1-inch screen, that’s enough for a 7-day panorama.Also, if you enter any Data, whether sexual activity or physical symptoms, is marked with a purple dot that day. It doesn’t help much when that point could mean anything. Another tip from Apple: Color coding might help.

If I were just keeping track of my periods, I’d be grateful that no red period days could sneak up on me. (Okay, well, you can set notifications too.) But for those trying to conceive, a calendar view can be helpful for other reasons, like matching factors like sexual activity and body temperature with your predicted fertile days match. Which brings me to the next point…

An easier way to record and understand basal body temperature

Apple Health users can choose to record their basal body temperature.

Dana Wolman/Engadget

One way many people measure their fertility is to take their temperature at about the same time each day. The idea is that unless you’re pregnant, your body temperature rises rapidly before ovulation and then falls back down after that. The amount of reading per day doesn’t matter. What matters is the mode that all these inputs point to. The only way to see the pattern is to see your temperature reading on a graph.

That’s how temperature tracking was in the old days before smartphones: with graph paper. It’s hard to spot this surge as you scroll through Apple Health’s left-to-right calendar each day. When it’s presented as an infographic, it’s easy to spot the surge. I know Apple can do well. This is already how Apple presents changes in my daily minutes of exercise or fluctuations in my heart rate throughout the day.

Oh, and while I’m ranting on this topic, Apple doesn’t just let you enter whatever number you see on the thermometer. You have to select it from a scrolling watch face, similar to how you set an alarm in the Clock app. (When you enter your temperature, you start from the last temperature you entered.) A base thermometer displays your reading to the hundredth of a degree, so even slight temperature fluctuations from one day to the next can cause People hate the amount of scrolling.

Ability to identify ovulation strips

Apple Health users have the option to log ovulation test results.

Dana Wolman/Engadget

Not everyone uses temperature readings to predict ovulation. Many people use a newer invention of ovulation testing: at-home pads that measure luteinizing hormone (LH), which surges just before ovulation. The result always contains two lines, and how close you are to ovulation depends on the color of each line. Because the color exists in the spectrum, from light violet to very dark, it is difficult for the naked eye to discern nuances, especially at the darker end of the color scale. Fortunately, many apps allow you to take or upload a photo of your results, and the app will use camera recognition to classify your test results into one of three categories: low, high, or peak. Again, I have no doubt that Apple has the technology to do this.

Pregnant women resources

One of the reasons people download and continue to use fertility apps after pregnancy is so they can find out every week whether their baby is the size of a raspberry, plum or avocado. The apps can also be a resource for beginners who feel overwhelmed and unsure what symptoms and physical changes they will experience at each stage. The information in these apps varies in depth and accuracy. As far as I know, there is currently no governing body to regulate what information an application contains as a resource. Not even the App Store. I’m not suggesting that Apple write its own content. But it can use the same management system as the App Store, Apple News, etc., to provide users with information from trusted external sources, whether it’s a medical site like WebMD or a well-known medical center like the Mayo Clinic.

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