Last night, Apple pushed out iOS 8.2 to my iPhone, an update to its operating system. The blurb for the update promised "improvements to the Health app." Finally, I thought. When HealthKit was first introduced last year, it came under criticism for not taking women's health needs into consideration. The Apple app tracks an amazing assortment of possible health indicators: sleep, body mass index, number of times fallen, "electrodermal activity," sleep, weight, sodium intake, copper intake, and even selenium intake. But it didn't track the one thing most women want to track: their periods.
However, I was in for a disappointment. After I updated my iPhone last night and fired up the Health app, I found there were only two changes. "Biological sex" had been changed to "Sex." And there was just one addition to the suite of tracking tools; it wasn't "Menstruation," it was "Workouts." Seriously, Apple? What is the matter with you?
How can an app that promises to let you "see your whole health picture" neglect to include one of the most important aspects of a woman's health? Apple did not respond to a request for comment about why there's still no period-tracking in HealthKit; perhaps this image offers a clue:
When Apple hosted an event last month to introduce its newest products, all of the people who appeared on stage to talk about them—and who had been instrumental in leading the design for them—were men. The only woman to appear on stage was a former supermodel, Christy Turlington Burns, who was essentially there to model the Apple Watch. According to ReadWrite, the last woman to appear on stage at a live Apple event had been five years earlier, in 2010, when Zynga's then-mobile chief Jennifer Herman appeared to talk about Farmville.
If you're a man reading this — and particularly a man working at Apple — you might be thinking, "Why does period tracking matter? It happens once a month, right? Isn't that all you need to know?" And then you Google that South Park joke about not trusting anything that bleeds for 5 days without dying, watch the YouTube clip, laugh, and go back to entering your selenium intake for the day.
Here are a few reasons it matters: Periods differ from woman to woman in terms of how often and how long they come. Women like to know and be reminded when the "crimson tide" is coming so that they can remember to pack their tampon surfboards. Women like to track the monthly visitor for fertility reasons—whether it's to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy. Young iPhone-toting women, particularly, belong to the "pull-out generation" and tracking their periods allows them to know when they are the most fertile. The ability to track your periods isn't a nice-to-have feature; for many women, it's the thing standing between them and an unwanted pregnancy.
Yes, there are a number of options in the App store for period tracking—most of them, annoyingly, have pink icons—and venture capitalists (who are also largely male, but recognize the value of a good idea) have poured millions of dollars into some of them. But there are also apps for tracking all the other stuff Apple put into HealthKit, including workouts. Bundling period-tracking into HealthKit would have given women an easy, secure way to track their sensitive rhythm data without needing to rely on a third-party provider, or pay for an extra app. It would have nudged women in the direction of knowing more, not less, about their bodies.
C'mon, Apple. Please include period-tracking next time you're tinkering with the HealthKit, and at least pretend you care about your lady customers who have not yet hit menopause. And—come to think of it—while you're at it, maybe you should add hot flash tracking to HealthKit, too.