How Walt Disney World's future may evolve from MagicBands to smart devices

Jun 25, 2020 in "MyMagic+"

Following years of development and more than 1 billion dollars, Disney introduced its groundbreaking NextGen MyMagic+ initiative back in 2013, making the My Disney Experience planning tool and MagicBands the cornerstone of every Walt Disney World vacation.

The MagicBand became the room key, the park entry media, FastPass+ entry, and payment device.

By January 2015, Disney had distributed more than 10 million MagicBands to guests, which was then followed by hundreds of premium MagicBands with unique designs that guests have been buying and collecting ever since.

Beginning January 2021, Disney will be ending complimentary MagicBand distribution to Disney Resort hotel guests and shifting to guests using their own smart devices in place of MagicBands.

Disney’s plan to replace the MagicBand is to use Near Field Communication (NFC) and through a special partnership with Apple, leverage the convenience of Apple Wallet. On Apple devices, the system will allow advanced NFC features including an Express Mode, which allows the device to be used for access without FaceID/TouchID, and the answer to one of the most criticized aspects of guests using their own devices - the ability to work for several hours after the battery is exhausted. Similar functionality will be available on Android devices.

Apple has extensive experience with NFC for mass use, which has been demonstrated though its contactless student ID program, in use by more than 100,000 college students across America. Once added to Apple Wallet, students can use their devices to access rooms, buy lunch, and enter dorms.

As planned, NFC will power the Walt Disney World main entrance touch points, FastPass+ entry, and payments. Disney’s existing hotel room locks based on VingCard are not currently compatible with Disney’s planned NFC system, and would need to rely on the existing My Disney Experience Digital Key feature for unlocking the room. This unfortunately means that it would not be able to leverage the exhausted battery capability of Apple Wallet. This of course may change, but it could be argued than entry to guest rooms with a dead battery at the end of the day could be one of the most desirable features of allowing guests to user their own devices.

It is clear how the move to using guest supplied devices benefits Disney in cost savings, and how it greatly benefits the environment through millions of MagicBands not reaching landfill sites across the world. But what is in it for the guests?

Since Apple Watch became a runaway hit for Apple in 2015, shortly after MagicBands had become the normal, many guests were wondering just why they couldn’t use the watch in place of the band. The watch is part of many people’s everyday wear, and it seems redundant to have to strap on a MagicBand when there is a far more capable device on the other wrist. Even for those that do not wear an Apple Watch or similar, most have access to a phone, which can also be used for NFC communication. So for the guest, it is really about convenience and having one less thing to carry and keep track of.

And if you are wondering about on-ride photos that has previously needed the long-range capability of the MagicBand, that will be done on smart devices with Bluetooth Low Energy.

Despite the high saturation of smart devices among guests, Disney recognizes that some will still want to use MagicBands, and even physical cards, and they will continue to be supported and available for purchase. This is something that might be especially useful for those traveling with kids, who are far less likely to be equipped with an Apple Watch or similar. 

So that is an overview of Disney’s evolution of MagicBands in 2021, let us know your thoughts on the forum.

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Article Posted: Jun 25, 2020 / 9:11am ET