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03/16/2021

Disney Announces MagicMobile Tech

Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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In a recent blog post, Disney announced the debut of a new technology: Disney MagicMobile service. Launching in phases throughout 2021, Disney MagicMobile will be a "contactless way to access MagicBand features like theme park entry."

According to the blog post, guests will be able to create a Disney MagicMobile pass through the My Disney Experience app and add it to their smart device’s digital wallet. Most features will be available by holding up a smart device near an access point, just like guests do with a MagicBand. Apple users will be the first to be able to trial the Disney MagicMobile service.

At the moment, guests will be able choose to use either Disney MagicMobile service or a MagicBand during their visit. Guests could even use both and alternate between the two for added flexibility. However, in June 2020 - Disney did announce that it will be ending the MagicBands program in 2021. This seems to indicate that soon, the MagicMobile experience will completely replace the MagicBand experience.

Why though would Disney want to phase out a technology that has been so popular?

"The MyMagic+ initiative that brought about this technology, including MagicBands, cost in the neighborhood of one to two billion dollars," says Craig A. Svonkin, Professor of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver and avid researcher of Disney Parks. "It ran way over budget. And while people love their MagicBands, given the pandemic, I would guess that Disney is just looking for every possible place to cut costs. Cutting the free MagicBands for all Walt Disney World visitors is a huge savings, and that probably makes sense to deal with the hemorrhaging of money from their parks division."

Svonkin provides a few lines of evidence to back up this possibility. First, Disneyland, where more visitors tend to be local, never used the MagicBands. It always used the cheaper cell phone system for making attraction reservations. Second, when Disney opened its Star Wars land, Galaxy's Edge, and its premier attraction, Rise of the Resistance, the desire to see that ride was so great that Disney needed a reservation system. And that reservation system used guest cell phones and not MagicBands.

"So, when Disney needed a fix for the high costs of giving away MagicBands to everyone, the possibility of having guests use their cell phones must have just made sense," Svonkin says.

Whether or not this decision is a "good one" remains to be seen. Svonkin feels that in retrospect, Disney might regret it. 

"The MagicBand is iconic, and it helps tourists to not think about what's happening with the family dog back home, or work problems, or financial realities," he explains. "Having the phone as the centerpiece instead of the wristband threatens Disney's narrative of magic and escape."

According to the comments section beneath the Disney blog post, some consumers seem already to be worried about the change. 

"MagicMobile is a bad idea and is being implemented as a cost savings," says one commentator named Bob. "Cell phones get lost, get left in the room, get dropped, and can be hacked easily. Also, everyone in your party will need a separate cell phone. Magic Bands are much better and are attached to one’s arm, and they can last five years."

Bob's feedback demonstrates what many others in the comment section were mentioning: burden on guest and employees. Consider this: the vast universe of mobile devices presents a host of device types and age of device, bad connections, batteries in different states, varying operating systems, and different interfaces. All of this variability will make it extremely difficult, even for Disney, to provide a consistent elevated experience to all guests.  

However, the new technology course is likely to have its positive outcomes for the company as well, specifically in helping the park make more money by pushing regular notifications for upgrades, Svonkin says.

And not all Disney Park guests are upset with the change.

"I love this idea," says SG. "You choose between Magic Band OR smart phone! Your choice. Even plastic cards will be available. As much as Magic Bands are cool, they are a waste of plastic and batteries. I like the choices."