Intrepid developers have created apps that determine consent to sexual activity and “smart” menstrual cups that record the volume and color of the wearer’s flow. This week, the pregnancy-detection industry got into the reproductive app game, too. First Response has launched a Bluetooth-enabled home pregnancy test, the Pregnancy PRO, which sends the test results to a mobile app that offers distractions while the stick does its work.
With personalized resources like fertility-boosting tips and due date calculators, the Pregnancy PRO needlessly complicates a relatively simple hormonal sensor, introducing a new set of sensitive issues a pregnancy test need not confront. A user starts by telling the app if she’s planning a pregnancy or currently trying to conceive. If she is, and she gets a positive result, the app congratulates her and prompts her to add a doctor’s appointment to an integrated calendar. If she gets a negative result, the app offers “steps to help you get pregnant fast” and a menstrual cycle–tracking tool. Both positive and negative outcomes offer users the opportunity to “share” their results, which seems excessive. The screengrabs provided on the First Response website only cover what happens if a user is trying to get pregnant; a media representative for Church & Dwight Co. did not respond to a request for further information.
What the app does if a user is not aiming for a pregnancy—or if she doesn't fit neatly into one of the two categories—is the trickier part. The app’s prompts are friendly and conversational (“Don’t stress!” it says while a user waits), so if you’ve already told the app that you’re hoping for a negative result, you might be primed for a little more sympathy than you’d expect from an impartial stick. There’s nothing an app could say (“oops!”; “I’m so sorry!”; “Time for a decision!”) that would not read as glib and inadequately concerned coming from a cutesy pink-and-purple mobile app. Offering resources for abortion providers or adoption agencies would be both appropriate (since happy pregnant women get similar help) and problematic (since it’s a pregnancy test, not a counselor or doctor), and those kinds of decisions are fraught with deeply personal beliefs.
Does this test actually improve upon existing, affectless stick tests? Scared teenagers might derive some measure of comfort from a familiar app interface. But one of the best parts of an analog pregnancy test, for a teenager, is that parents can’t track it on a phone—it’s a straightforward buy, pee, and toss in a public garbage can scenario. And no matter which outcome users are hoping for, the import of a pregnancy test’s moment of truth can weigh on the nerves. In those minutes, even simple tasks like peeing directly on a tab for five seconds and setting a timer can be intimidating—forget about downloading an app, figuring out an unreliable Bluetooth connection, or entering a special “privacy pairing code” to see the results on the app when they’re ready.
At least one man thinks the app has its benefits. “Compared to a series of symbols on a tiny LCD display, the [Pregnancy PRO] app makes it almost impossible to misinterpret a positive or negative response,” writes Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo. But pregnancy tests are not tea leaves—there’s hardly any interpreting to be done, and any difficulty can likely be resolved by a pair of reading glasses. If there is a second line on a pregnancy test, no matter how faint it is, it’s a positive result. There are also pregnancy tests that offer the results in words (“pregnant” and “not pregnant” or “yes” and “no”) and include a countdown to reassure a test-taker that her stick is working during the wait. If the lines on the test are confusing, there’s an app for that, too: the Pregnancy Test Checker, which uses photo-editing tools to increase the contrast and brightness of the result panel, making the image easier to see.
That last app also advises users to “apply photo effects to make that (hopefully visible) second line easier to see.” That second line could be “hopefully visible” for some, but for others, it could be disappointing or a life-altering blow. Even the scientific community isn’t immune to these kinds of traps: In 2014, researchers studying the accuracy of home pregnancy tests dubbed their paper “Strips of Hope.” Like a cashier who says “congratulations!” to a customer buying a pregnancy test, the Pregnancy PRO turns an innocuous home-diagnosis mechanism into a meddlesome, gaffe-prone device that’s bound to cause more stress than comfort.