Apple is finally launching a cycle tracker this week, and there's a compelling reason to use it over third-party apps
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
- Apple will launch its native period-tracking app for the iPhone and Apple Watch this week.
- The new "Cycle Tracking" app will allow users to track their periods, symptoms, and fertility windows without having to use a third-party app.
- Apple added some period tracking features to HealthKit in 2015 after the company received backlash for not including the function initially when it launched health-tracking features in 2014.
- A native period-tracking feature from Apple could be attractive to users who are nervous about the lax privacy protections offered in third-party apps.
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Back in June, Apple introduced an app dedicated to period-tracking called Cycle Tracking. This week, it's finally coming to iPhones and Apple Watches with Apple's latest software, iOS 13 and watchOS 6.
In the new app, users will input information like flow level and any symptoms, and the app will generate iPhone and/or Apple Watch notifications predicting when your period will begin and when you are ovulating.
For more accurate predictions, you can input basal body temperature or ovulation test results, and the feature will create a prediction of a fertile window for you if you're trying to become pregnant (or avoid pregnancy).
While Apple has offered health-tracking on its devices for five years, it's the first time the company will offer native reproductive health-tracking features for the iPhone and Apple Watch.
When Apple debuted HealthKit in 2014 with iOS 8, it was positioned as a hub for tracking all sorts of health data, and seeing trends over time.
But one critical health data point that Apple neglected to add was period tracking. Almost immediately, people who menstruated tweeted and posted about the omission.
Critics suggested that this blind spot was a result of Apple's mostly white, male workforce.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross at The Verge pointed out that "Apple's HealthKit can help you keep track of your blood alcohol content. If you're still growing, it'll track your height. And if you have an inhaler, it'll help you track how often you use it. You can even use it to input your sodium intake ... And yet, of all the crazy stuff you can do with the Health app, Apple somehow managed to omit a woman's menstrual cycle."
In 2015, iOS 9 finally included a "Reproductive Health" section under the Health app. The design, which has remained basically unchanged since, includes spaces to input menstruation dates, sexual activity, spotting, and other relevant information. The section seems more aimed at fertility tracking than periods specifically, with space to add basal body temperature, ovulation tests, and cervical mucus quality.
This information came through integrating data from other period-tracking apps into the health app. Apple didn't add its own period-tracking system, but it did finally provide a way to see that data alongside other basic health information.
Now, with iOS 13, Apple will group reproductive health information under the "Women's Health" category in the Health app (although women are not the only people who have periods). If you use a third-party period-tracker, you can still combine your preferred period tracker with the native Health app, and also see which apps are sharing data with Health in the app under "Sources."
A focus on privacy
But recently, an investigation from Privacy International found some period-tracking apps were sharing sensitive information with Facebook. It found that two apps, Maya and MIA Fem, shared information including users' drinking habits, medications they used, and when they last had sex.
A native period-tracking app from Apple could be attractive to users who are nervous about the lax privacy protections offered in the other apps, especially because Apple has emphasized its commitment to privacy compared to competitors.
In June, Apple announced a "Sign in with Apple" feature, which it touted as a way to stop third-party apps and websites from getting access to your information when you sign in. Apple says it can authenticate users through Face ID without sharing their personal data, as is the case when signing in using Facebook, Google, or Twitter.
The company has also heavily promoted the privacy aspect of the new Apple Card: A unique number is created for every purchase, and each purchase is authorized with Face ID. The physical card doesn't even have a number on it.
An emphasis on privacy might be appealing to security-focused users, but many people who get periods have already spent years using another app, and they could be reluctant to make the switch. We'll have to wait and see how iPhone and Apple Watch owners feel about the Cycle Tracking app compared to third-party versions.
Now tell us what you think!
Am I missing it, or does the new iOS 8 Health app not include a period tracker? Seems like a no-brainer addition to me...- (@liftedpixel) September 18, 2014
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