I’ll never forget going to Disney World as a child. As we stood in line to enter the park, a simple cash register—one like I’d see at the local donut shop or gas station—rang up a bill close to $1,000. While my parents were no doubt prepped for the sticker shock—or just very cool about the whole thing—I felt a blow of guilt right in my gut. I was just a kid, but I knew that was a whole lot of money being spent just for me to feel like a kid.
It’s just one of many reasons that Disney’s MagicBands are a great idea. They’re RFID wristbands that are at the heart of a collection of services Disney is dubbing MyMagic+. It’s all part of an estimated $1 billion makeover for the parks, aimed at making the experience of being at Disney a bit more magical.
A family of four can put MagicBands on after registering for the cloud-based service, then instead of digging through cash or (the unmaxed) credit cards, they can use their wrists to enter the park, buy lunch, and even unlock their hotel room. A skeptic would point out that such an interaction will disassociate people with spending money, and that’s entirely true: Families will be able to enjoy Disney without the constant reminder that the magic comes at a price.
But the cashflow aspect is only one aspect of Disney’s new service. When you begin to consider the potential of wearing a wireless ID around your wrist, all sorts of natural, customized interactions will become possible. Imagine a child meeting Mickey Mouse, and after sharing a warm hug, Mickey actually wishing them a happy birthday by name. There’s a digital handshake going on here, of course, but it’s totally imperceptible. All a child is left wondering is, "How did Mickey know me … and that it was my birthday?!?" Animatronics will see a similar personalization, so the otherwise obtuse talking robots can specifically acknowledge the people standing in front of them.
At the same time, MagicBands enable a deeper level of data collection for Disney. They’ll be able to track someone through the entire park—to see their kingdom as a complex interaction model—finding trends in preferences and habits that can no doubt be monetized. Do people who meet Cinderella buy more princess apparel? Do those who eat the cheese fries for lunch go back to the hotel to take naps?
There will be some level of privacy options, especially for children, whose parents can do things like opt out of characters knowing their names. No personal data is kept on the band itself, and any purchase over $50 will require the user to also enter a PIN (which is actually a buzzkill that destroys the illusion at work—I hope users can opt out of that, too).
The question becomes, how deeply will Disney integrate their mobile phone app into this model? Because MyMagic+ will enable users to delve deeper into reservations, getting text message updates when a ride is open, and reserving specific seats for the parade. This much information will require some level of feedback that the wristband can’t provide. Hopefully, Disney has some other tricks up its sleeve for tackling these logistics without fueling our smartphone obsession. Because however much profit lurks underneath the surface, MagicBands are a brilliant ploy to get us all looking at the world around us again.