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
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reptar7723 days ago

I hope Disney doesn't stop the easter eggs at the FP or park entrance taps. I love those!

disneygeek90Jun 29, 2020

They typically range from $15-35. Lower end being the basic solid colors and higher end being special editions. Character based open releases being somewhere in the middle.

doctornickJun 29, 2020

We don't go that often so my concern is that our old bands will no longer work for the distance functions. So we'll have to take the extra step to find out whether that works once we get there. Also, for my kids' bands, they are starting to get bigger and we had removed the extra length for them to wear, so they may no longer fit. That said, we surely will bring old bands with us to try to use.

lazyboy97oJun 29, 2020

Why not just use ones from previous trips? The only way people know they prefer a MagicBand is because they have one.

TrainChasersJun 29, 2020

I’m one of the few who prefers the card but I can see why some would prefer the magic band. Which is why it’s great that it’s still an option! Or if you already have an Apple Watch... there’s another option. MB’s currently start at $14.99

doctornickJun 29, 2020

I don't see how it makes it "more convenient" though for most people. Maybe equally as convenient for many but outside of those who just don't like wearing the band, this wouldn't be much better just different.

doctornickJun 29, 2020

True, though it is certainly less convenient than having something wearable. Not only is there the extra step of having to take out such a card from whatever holder but also with going to the pool/waterpark (especially for women who don't generally have pockets in a bathing suit). It's also less ideal for children to be able to carry their own. The card also doesn't allow for the distance function to automatically work with ride photos, etc. I'm curious as to what the price will be for the MBs staying at a resort. If it's cheap enough, I suspect my family will just bite the bullet any buy them because they are so convenient. Or maybe we'll go with the KTTW cards and wear lanyards like we do at Uni.

TrainChasersJun 29, 2020

I always felt like it was similar to the office where Ryan made everyone use his “infinity” system to justify the high cost of his system to corporate. I can see it now- Ryan - “look - 98% of on property guests are using magic bands. Huge success” Stanley - “but 98% of on property guests don’t know they have a choice” Ryan - “exactly! I love your enthusiasm. Keep up the good work.”

21stampsJun 28, 2020

I think it’s following consumer trends at this point. A lot of people are always with either their mobile phone or smart watch, why not save money, the environment, and make things more convenient for a large portion of your customer base?

21stampsJun 28, 2020

Really? That sounds backwards.

TrainChasersJun 28, 2020

Perfect. So if you don’t want to pay for a magic band you just ask for a key to the world card. It’s a hotel key card that will do everything your magic band does. The key to the world card pre-dates the magic bands and has always been available if you don’t want a magic band for whatever reason.

Jim SJun 28, 2020

We stay on property

TrainChasersJun 28, 2020

Do you stay on property or off? If on property- a key to the world card is a hotel key card but like your magic band can be set up for charging privledges, tickets, etc. If off property than you can just use your ticket that you purchase at the ticket booth which is the exact same thing as an annual pass (an ap is just a 365 day ticket, it’s not a special card other than the fact it says annual pass on it).

Jim SJun 28, 2020

Appreciate the info but to be honest I don't know what a world card is and assume AP is annual pass. Neither situations will help me. Thanks for info anyway.