The Internet of Things refers to when network connectivity, along with the proper devices and infrastructure, allows for even the most seemingly non-technical experiences to be enhanced by technology.
Companies like Cisco Systems have talked of building connected "smart cities," in which the Internet of Things is used to deal with issues including overcrowding and security. The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) is already on this trend and has made its theme parks the start of a "smart city," as its uses technology to enhance its theme park experience, increase security, and gain incredible insight into the habits of visitors.
The company released its MagicBand for initial public testing in 2013, meant as a wearable device that would serve as what seemed like a simple RFID tracker to gain access to the park. Now the band, along with its MyMagic network, has become much more. The band was completely rolled out at Disney World in Florida last March, and around half of guests were using the bands by year's end. On Jan. 30, 2015, Disney reported it had distributed 10 million MagicBands and Disney is now planning to soon roll out the bands in other parks like Disneyland in California, though no date has been set. 90% of guests have reportedly given a positive response about using their band.
Disney's own wearable technology
As a simple rubber wristband, Disney's MagicBands might not look as sophisticated as some of the smartwatches and other wearable technology out there. The magic is not in the band, but in the connection to the theme park infrastructure and what it allows guests to do.
Your first experience with the band occurs when you get into the park and tap your wristband on the friendly Mickey Mouse-shaped reader that will glow green to let you know you are ready for your adventure. (An invalid tap glows blue.)
But the magic is planned far in advance for the savviest visitors. After making your itinerary online, an inscribed band will arrive at your house, helping you and your family to get excited for your trip. Disney says MagicBands are available for $12.95 each, but they're free if you stay at a Disney Resort hotel or are a Walt Disney World Passholder.
What a "connected" day at a Disney theme park could look like
Record attendance at Disney theme parks is great for the company, but for guests, it means dealing with crowds. There is one theme from many guests' Disney experience that will stick out: waiting in line. First to get into the park, then waiting for rides, then for food... it seems most of the day is spent in line, or else making choices between where to go, what to eat, etc. That is part of what Disney wants to change, and connected technology is helping that change.
A modern trip to Disney can be planned months in advance, everything from where to park, what food to eat, even what time to ride a certain ride. With Disney's MagicBand and MyMagic, all of this planning and sticking to schedule becomes easier.
Waiting in lines can be largely eliminated by going online and reserving a spot on a ride for a specific time, say, Magic Mountain at 11:25 a.m. Then, guests can simply walk to the ride, go to the front of the line, tap their MagicBands at the scanner, and get the next car.
Instead of wandering the restaurants in the park, waiting for a spot, and then being shocked by the prices, guests can order and even pay ahead of time, usually getting a discount by booking a family option on the DisneyWorld app in advance. When they walk up to the restaurant, they'll be greeted by a host who already knows their names (thanks to a radio signal transmitted by the band to the hostess, alerting them who is arriving), while their food is already being prepared.
After lunch, guests might walk through a few shops, and what parent could resist getting their kid the cute little plush doll that they want to have to remember their trip by? The parent won't pay for it with cash, though; she'll just tap her band at the register, which is connected to her online account and credit card.
Every parent fears having a child get lost in a crowded area like a theme park. Disney is helping to increase security by making these bands homing devices as well, where family members can track each other's locations if need be.
Finally, guests can retire at the end of the day to their pre-booked Disney villa -- where their MagicBands give them access to their hotel room -- and log in to their MyMagic account. There, photos taken throughout the day by Disney theme park photographers have been uploaded to their account for them to enjoy -- and buy.
It's magic! No, it's typical Disney
Disney has always been in the industry of making people feel like they are escaping the stress of everyday life by transporting them to a world of magic and fun. Every Disney movie has this theme, and it's what the theme parks strive to do as well.
Disney's former head of theme parks Tom Staggs (who is now COO and reportedly the most likely successor to CEO Bob Iger) put it best during an interview in March with Wired when he quoted Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." He went on to say, "That's how we think of it. If we can get out of the way, our guests can create more memories." http://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/
This MagicBand and Internet of Things connectivity further enhance Disney's mission to provide magical experiences for guests -- and it's one more reason Disney theme parks continue to grow attendance and revenue year after year.
Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Cisco Systems and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Cisco Systems and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.