Spot On is a mobile app developed by Planned Parenthood that, in short, allows users to track their period and birth control method. Spot On was released on June 27, 2016 and as of January 31, 2020 had been reportedly downloaded 500,000+ times from the Google Play Store. On January 27, 2020 an update was released (version 3.1.8) and, well, let’s just say that users aren’t particularly happy about it. Over the past few days it’s been a downward spiral for the app’s rating, currently sitting at 2.8 as I write this. In fact, they may now have more 1 star reviews than 5 star.

spot on 2.8
Spot On’s rating as of January 31, 2020.

According to the description in the Google Play Store, the new look was released after “taking all of your feedback to heart and some of the most highly requested features are here.” I’m not sure what exactly this consultation process was. However, all of us who loved the older version of the app probably should have left more reviews because from reading the recent onslaught of 1 and 2 star reviews it appears that Planned Parenthood removed many functions that users – including myself – liked. While some may like this new version, many are less than enthused about the “new features and improvements.” Spoiler alert: I am unfortunately one of those people.

But before I jump into my experience trying to use the updated app, I would like to preface this by saying this is just my opinion of the recent Spot On update. Others may have an entirely different experience and opinion.

Birth Control Tracking

One of the features of this app is that it can help users track their birth control method. The app supports a variety of contraceptive methods including the pill, patch, ring, shot, IUD, and implant (Planned Parenthood, 2020). I’ve only ever used it to track the pill, so that’s the only one I can really comment on here.

One of the first things I noticed about the updated version is that it was telling me to start a new pill pack every couple of weeks, which is not how my contraceptive is supposed to be taken. But I’m assuming that was just some sort of a bug when my data got transferred over. I was able to fix this as I played around with the app.

The next change I noticed was that the app only gets you to log if you missed a pill rather than asking you whether or not you took it. I have no idea what the logic was for this change. I personally found the daily act of logging whether or not I took it helpful in remembering to take my pill. In responding to some of the 1 star reviews Planned Parenthood has said they’re going to bring back the functionality to mark it as taken, which is great news!

homepage pill log
Home screen of version 2.9.1 (left) and the new version 3.1.8 (right). Version 2.9.1. prompts users to log if they took their pull, while version 3.1.8 asks whether they missed a pill.

However, naturally the scientist in me was curious about what would happen if I said I didn’t take my pill. At this point my exploration of the update became like a Gray Still Plays style app review. For those of you who haven’t heard of Gray Still Plays, he’s a YouTuber who tries to ‘break’ games by find/exploiting loopholes that the developers missed or just generally messing around to get the worst possible outcome in the game.

Even though I hadn’t missed a pill, I told the app I had on missed one on day 16 of my pill pack. A message came up on my screen saying I was late starting my new pill pack. I was a little confused because it’s day 16 of my pill pack, but since the app had me starting a new pill back every two weeks or so it thought it was day 5. So in the name of science, I continued on.

It told me to start my new pill pack ASAP, and then that my BCP won’t work until I’ve been on my new pill pack for 7 days. This is entirely wrong advice for my situation. Even if I had started it on the 27th (like the app is telling me to do) I didn’t log any other missed pills. So the advice should have said to take the pill as soon as I remember, which may mean taking two in one day. This is what the old app said, and also the instructions that come with my birth control.

Late
The string of prompts I received after indicating I had missed a pill. Because information about my birth control got messed up (for lack of a better term) when my data was transfered to version 3.1.8, these instructions are incorrect.

So I went in to investigate further and discovered the app automatically filled in the previous days as missed days for my pill (even though I didn’t miss them) back to when I allegedly should have started a new pill pack. Which was, of course, not actually the day I was supposed to do this.

Screenshot_20200131-130733

At this point I’m getting a very loud looking yellow notification on my home screen that my birth control is no longer working. This is great feature if you want everyone within a 5m radius of you to know all about the status of your birth control every time you open the app. I figured starting a new pack would disable it, but alas it did not. So I went full Grey Still Plays and started a new pack 10 times in one day, but it was still telling me to start a new pack. Turns out this only updates it on the calendar. Judging by the calendar I’m going to be stuck with this message on the home screen for the next week. But on the bright side the app no longer tells me to start a new pack every two weeks.

Tracking Mood, Body, and Activities

The update changed how you track your Mood, Body, Activities, and Period (we’ll come back to periods in the next section). Previously this could all be done on the home screen, and each of these categories had its own little bubble at the bottom of the screen (refer back to my screenshots of the home screen if you need a visual for this). Tapping on it would bring up response options only for that category, and the emojis you selected would then appear in that bubble on the home screen.  Now you have to open the Calendar, tap the day you want to log these for, and hit the “+” to bring up everything for all categories. Not as convenient in my opinion.

There’s also a “Quick Log” on the home page. However, this merely displays three options (that the app picks) so it – and the entire home screen for that matter – are frankly pretty useless.

On the previous version you could also see a monthly summary of what you logged, but that feature was removed.  You could also get the calendar to display certain things you had logged; for example, all of the days where I had a headache or felt anxious. These features made it very easy to look for trends. As someone who has mood problems related to their menstrual cycle, being able to track this and look for trends was the most useful part of the app.

Tracking Periods

Differences in flow. In the previous version you could easily see differences in menstrual flow at a glance on the home screen. This feature was removed because clearly the entire development team has never menstruated in their lives. While you can track how heavy your period is on the calendar page, it just shows up as a red circle on the calendar with no quickly distinguishable indicator of flow. The only way to get this information is to select the day, click the “+” sign, and then scroll down to see which option you selected. Huge pain, and it makes it impossible to see trends.

I also noticed that at the moment the “+” function only works for January 16s onwards. So there is no way of getting this information for previous cycles even though I entered it. While this isn’t as big of a deal for me, it could represent a major loss in app functionality for users who struggle with their menstrual cycle.

Spotting. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, spotting refers to a small amount of vaginal bleeding that sometimes occurs outside of a person’s regular menstrual cycle. Spot On allows users to also track spotting, and on the previous version is stressed that spotting was not counted as a period. However, at the moment the updated version does count this as a period. Because I entered one day of spotting the app now says I have an irregular period (it’s not), that my cycle is 35 days (nope), and average period duration of 1 day (seriously?) The app also no longer predicts my next period, which I’m guessing is because I allegedly have an irregular period?

 

Screenshot_20200131-131337

“How’s Your Period Going?” One of the reviews on the Google Play Store reported that the app displays a gigantic message on the home screen asking how your period is going. I gathered from the review that the user was not pleased with this. So once again, the researcher in me needed to investigate. And what do you know, the reviewer was not exaggerating.

 

So basically all of the functionality of the home page was taken away, and it has more of a social media vibe. Except instead of showing me cute pictures of my friends’ kids, it’s a newsfeed that only displays things from Planned Parenthood and broadcasts updates on my uterus.

Gender Neutrality

Despite my critiques, I would like to end on something positive because I have to give Planned Parenthood credit where credit is due. They have really tried to be gender neutral. I’ve tried other period trackers in the past, and they tend to be very ‘girly.’ Basically they’re a lot of flowers, cute little animals, and pink vomited all over my screen. This is not the case with Spot On.

“Spot On doesn’t make any assumptions about your gender, sexual orientation, or reproductive goals.” (Planned Parenthood, 2020).

While as a cis woman I’m not in a position to comment on whether this app is dysphoria inducing or not, I would have to agree that there is a distinct lack of ‘femininity’ and it doesn’t seem to assume the gender of the user.

 

References:

Planned Parenthood. (2020). Spot On Period Tracker. Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-care/spot-on-period-tracker.