Market-testing a smartphone application for family planning: assessing potential of the CycleBeads app in seven countries through digital monitoring

Liya T. Haile, Hanley M. Fultz, Rebecca G. Simmons, Victoria Shelus


Background: The advent of new technological approaches to family planning has the potential to address unmet need in low- and middle-income countries. Provision of fertility awareness-based apps have the ability to provide accessible, direct-to-user fertility information to help women achieve their reproductive goals. The CycleBeads app, a digital platform for the Standard Days Method (SDM), a modern method of family planning, helps women achieve or prevent pregnancy, or track their cycles using the only their period start dates.
Methods: Brief social marketing campaigns were launched by the app developer to monitor cost and distribution of the CycleBeads app, understand the user profile, and assess user experience. Monitoring and evaluation through in-app micro surveys occurred over a 6-cycle period in seven countries: Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda. In-app micro-surveys were utilized to collect data around demographics, mode of use of the app, prior experiences with family planning, and satisfaction to better understand women’s interactions with the apps, and the possibility for meeting unmet need. Analyzes focused on women who were using the app to prevent pregnancy or track their cycles.
Results: Social media campaigns proved to be an easy, low-cost approach to advertising the CycleBeads app. As a result, 356,520 women downloaded the app, and the cost to the advertiser per download ranged from $0.17–0.69. A majority of app users were between 20–29 years old, married or in exclusive relationships. Overall, 39.9% of users were using the app to prevent pregnancy, 38.5% to plan a pregnancy, and 21.6% were tracking their cycles. Among the users preventing pregnancy, 64.1% of women had not used a family planning method 3 months before downloading the CycleBeads app. One-third of users who were using the app to track their cycles, reported that they had not been using any form of family planning. In all seven countries, nearly 60% of women reported that they would definitely recommend the CycleBeads app to a friend, indicating their satisfaction with the app.
Conclusions: Our main findings indicate that a social media campaign is a low-cost approach to making the CycleBeads app accessible to women. The app addresses multiple reproductive intentions and attracts a diverse demographic of users across different life stages. For many women the app was the first modern method they used in the last 3 months, showing that fertility awareness-based apps have the potential to address an unmet need. Future studies should focus on changes in behavior during the fertile window, partner communication, and future family planning intentions.