Fitbit hoped its new female health tracking features would be unique from other menstrual tracking apps. The sleek little wrist devices, almost 10 years-old with more than 75 million sold, have been logging more and more types of data, so it seems common sense to also keep track of a user's menstrual cycle.
The company rolled out the new feature for its iOS and Android apps and it looked positive at face value. Users wishing to employ the feature, however, discovered otherwise.
The first issue is the cookie-cutter approach to the tracking itself. Fitbit's feature makes the assumption that all cycles are the same, specifically that none go beyond 10 days. On the Fitbit community message board, many users voiced displeasure.
"I have endometriosis. My periods are random and last a lot longer than that," one user wrote.
Other users detailed longer cycles due to diets, birth control, polycystic ovary syndrome or miscarriages. One moderator with a male profile picture said he understood how the feature's limitations could be frustrating. But can he? The response came off as tone-deaf.
Another issue is the coloring of the calendar. The whites and grays of the background blend together and all the text is very small.
Other menstrual tracking apps go much more in depth, making the most out of the entered information. Other apps allow for multiple symptom tracking before, during, and after the cycle, and logging flow heaviness. Fitbit's features are lacking here too.
As far as symptoms, Fitbit's features offer the bare bones: cramps, acne, headache, tender breasts or the vague choice, "sick." Those in the middle of their cycle can experience exhaustion, bloating, fatigue, and nausea. Do all those fit under sick?
So why did it take eight years to roll such a basic feature out and have it be so lacking?
At least in part, it's a symptom of the lack of women in the US tech industry. Clearly, if Fitbit had women more closely involved in the product development process, they could have helped the company avoid such an embarrassing mistake.
Unfortunately, young women in America are often discouraged to pursue a career in tech, and so not enough of them get the opportunity to contribute at companies like Fitbit. Girls Who Code reported that 66% of girls 6-12 years old express an interest in computing, but that drops to 32% of 13-17 year olds.
SEE: How venture capital must change: Gender equality as a business opportunity (TechRepublic) | The state of women in computer science: An investigative report (TechRepublic)
The gender gap is only expected to widen since only 1 in 5 women are computer science graduates. Women working in computer sciences was around 24 percent last year and is expected to drop to 22 percent in the next 10 years.
Perhaps if more than two women were on the executive team at Fitbit, or were at least more closely involved product design, things could've been different.
For all its flaws, the feature does have some positives aspects. The feature is said to be pretty accurate of a cycle start and end dates, with a handy swipe-up option on the Versa device. Users also liked the ovulation tracker, even if they weren't trying to get pregnant. Most of all, they like that Fitbit is paying attention to women's health.
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- Fitbit has rolled out a new health feature for users to track their menstrual cycles.
- The feature is under scrutiny for its bare-bones design and the fact that it arbitrarily limits cycles to 10 days, making users question how many women were involved in the design process.
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