Is Disney taking a step toward making MagicBands obsolete?

April 2, 2018, 2:29 PM · Guests staying at Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge soon will be able to use their cell phones to access their rooms, the resort announced today.

Using cell phones as room keys isn't anything new in the hotel business — several chains have offered keyless entry at newer (or newly renovated) properties for some time now. But this will be a first for Disney, which invested millions in developing its MagicBand system to replace hotel keys and keycards at its hotels in Central Florida. So was spending all that money on MagicBands a waste if cell phones eventually could do the same thing?

I don't think so. The real magic behind the MagicBand isn't the band itself. It's the technology that allows you to open your hotel room, get into the park, get your Fastpasses, and pay for stuff by tapping just one device, whether it be a MagicBand or a cell phone. Tying all those IT systems together to accept input from a common tap-and-read device is what cost the really big bucks. What that specific thing you tap is, ultimately, irrelevant to your experience.

And at this point, the MagicBand continues to do more than a Disney World guest can do with the resort's official app, including tapping into Fastpass+ return queue and charging meals and souvenirs back to your room account.

Even if Disney evens up the functionality between its mobile app and the Magic Band, that MagicBand will continue to offer some big advantages over a cell phone. A lost MagicBand costs a lot less to replace than a lost mobile phone, to start. There's no danger of identity theft or having someone drain your home bank account with a lost MagicBand. And a MagicBand handles being dropped or drenched much better than most phones, too.

Yes, there's a flip side to all this. The core concept of the MagicBand was to lighten your load in the parks by having the MagicBand replace your wallet — with its credit cards, park tickets, room key, and Fastpasses. But with so many people carrying mobile phones with them into the parks anyway, the MagicBand becomes another thing to bring with you instead of the only thing, as it ideally was supposed to be.

Now let's be honest — the idea that parents who schlep enough gear through the parks to weigh down a Sherpa ever could reduce their load a single device is the real fantasy of a Disney vacation. At least the MagicBand is easily accessible on your wrist, instead of something you have to fish out of a pocket, like a phone.

But, hey, let's go ahead and dream. If your phone might someday be able to do everything the MagicBand can, perhaps then some adults could make it their one-and-only device in the parks and leave the MagicBands for the kids. Who knows? But I'd like to have that option someday.

Replies (24)

April 2, 2018 at 3:15 PM ·

Sorry not for me, you go to the pool and the have to leave your phone somewhere safe where it could be stolen and then they have entry to your room, sorry I prefer to take just the magic band whe I go swimming meaning the band is safe on my wrist, this to me is one new item I do not wish to use.

April 2, 2018 at 3:21 PM ·

The bands were a collosus waste of money.

Anyone with foresight could have forseen everything could have been replicated on mobile phones for barely 1% of what they ended up spending.

April 2, 2018 at 4:29 PM ·

I personally love the MagicBand and would definitely use it in place of my phone. Yeah I have my phone with me anyway, but pulling it out, launching the app (and hopefully getting service) is a pale second to just tapping the band. Robert is right, these things aren’t mutually exclusive, some will want to continue using bands and some their phone, to each his/her own.

April 2, 2018 at 5:40 PM ·

I’m generally indifferent toward MagicBands, but the one thing I do like is the ability to leave all valuables in the room when going to the pool. I certainly don’t want to bring my phone there. But if you’re not planning on using the pool, an app would work just fine.

April 2, 2018 at 5:46 PM ·

Of course, at some point I figure that Disney will start selling "MagicChips" to embed in our bodies, so this whole issue will become moot.

April 2, 2018 at 6:31 PM ·

Ummm. No. Think how much money they make selling magic bands and accessories for them. They’ll never give up that revenue stream so you can use your cell phone instead of buying something from them.

April 2, 2018 at 6:38 PM ·

MagicFailure. Disney should not be in the business of designing high tech devices. That's not their field of expertise. Silicon Valley does it better and cheaper.

The real significance of the $1.5 billion MyMagic+ fiasco was it ensured Bob Iger would remain Disney's CEO by making Rasulo and Staggs look like fools. Same goes for Shanghai Disney. Iger may be lousy for Disney fans, but he is one of the best (worst) Machiavellian politicians. He got the best of Eisner, Staggs and Rasulo. And he will get the best of his bald mini-me Chapek too.

April 2, 2018 at 6:45 PM ·

Well if they go with the "MagicChips" they could sell "MagicBandAids" at the point-of-sale to add to the revenue stream. I think "MagicBadges" could be kid fun, tie it in with the parents phone App and make it interactive.

April 2, 2018 at 10:02 PM ·

They need RFID to instantly trigger my iPhone TouchID to open doors. Otherwise, it’s a hassle to open the app.

April 2, 2018 at 10:12 PM ·

I think that the phone makes the most sense because you can't take pictures with your magic band! You still need to bring your phone or camera with you. With a phone, it really is all in one. Also, not many people want to be separated from their phones these days.

April 2, 2018 at 10:17 PM ·

Love the Magic Bands

April 2, 2018 at 10:54 PM ·

I think the mobile phone app should do all the functionality of the magic band and you don't need the magic band at all. But still have the magic band for your kids.

April 2, 2018 at 11:06 PM ·

I don't see MagicBands going away.

First, they are a fantastic merchandise opportunity, with their special editions and customising.

Second, MagicBands are also long distance tracked devices, so they can detect which ride car you are in, or where you are sat in a restaurant. This tech just isn't feasible with all types of smartphone.

Third, children don't all have smartphones (and nor should they). In fact, not all adults so. So phones are not an option.

Fourth, this would demand all guests phones to be permanently charged to work, which is unrealistic if you spend all day in the park.

Fifth, phones aren't all waterproof, making them a poor replacement for water parks.

April 3, 2018 at 2:17 AM ·

How would this work for young children & elderly who do not have cell phones? Personally we all love the magicbands, each person has their own individual bands on their wrists. My youngest (6) loves the fact he can open our room door or be like adults entering the parks with his magicband.

April 3, 2018 at 12:11 PM ·

I have an Apple Watch, which I initially purchased for the convenience of ApplePay that was not possible with my iPhone (5S) since it lacked the near field chip (NFC) necessary to make the system work. Even though I've upgraded my phone recently, I still use my AppleWatch as my primary ApplePay device, and it can just as easily be configured to open hotel rooms and other NFC-equipped functions as a cell phone. I would much rather wear my normal watch at WDW without having to strap on a MagicBand, but the problem is that the NFC/RFID in MagicBand is "always on", while the NFC in most smart watches and mobile devices are only turned on when the user activates them. I don't necessarily have a problem pushing a button to open a door, make a charge to my room, or to scan a FP+ reservation, but some other MagicBand technologies wouldn't work with mobile device NFCs like Photopass, character interactions, and behind the scenes guest tracking (not that I'd love to take that out of Disney's greasy little hands).

I think most people don't mind the MagicBands, but I think there's some convenience for you to be able to utilize most MagicBand technology with their current mobile devices. If I could simply tap my AppleWatch (which is fully waterproof BTW) on Mickey-heads around the parks and resorts like you currently do with MagicBands, I would dump the silly plastic bracelet in a heartbeat.

April 3, 2018 at 8:45 AM ·

As another commenter rightfully pointed out, using your phone creates all sorts of problems in line. Just visit Disneyland and watch people (watch yourself) trying to use the MaxPass. Everytime you're walking into the fastpass line, the people in front of you start fumbling with their phones, and you can't get the damn app open, and the whole line gloms up. Sure, it's only a minute's wait, but when you're fighting the crowds at Disneyland, any hang-up is a bad one.

April 3, 2018 at 9:18 AM ·

Sorry it’s jot for me, I like nearly all the improvements to things but this one is a massive NO DONT DO IT, sorry but I like the idea that if I go for a swim I can leave my phone tucked away in the safe knowing it’s safe and use my magic band for swimming ect, if you have the phone where do you put it when you go for a swim, on the side, someone steals this and gains entry to your room.

It’s so wrong on so many levels.

April 3, 2018 at 9:32 AM ·

So you're defending Disney spending $1.5-2 billion on a technology that, even if it works well today, may in the near future be obsolete? Magic Bands were a boondoggle that allowed Disney to sit on it's laurels. They were looking to milk more money out of guests, because they thought the parks were mature, until Universal showed them a thing or two. The cost of Magic Bands and Shanghai caused WDW to stagnate for years, and delayed or canceled much needed expansion at the Disneyland Resort. They're only trying to catch up now. But just as they think they're going to catch up, Universal is going to open Nintendo Land and Lord of the Rings.

April 3, 2018 at 2:34 PM ·

I've only used the Magic Band during one two day visit, but I have to admit, for as convenient as it was, I didn't like the sensation of the hot sweaty rubber band against my wrist. If there was a way to put that functionality into my Apple Watch I'd have been much happier. I do think the bands will always be part of the mix as folks do love to collect them and it's a great option for kids and when going to the pool or water park.

April 3, 2018 at 3:07 PM ·

I wonder if this has less to do with the Magic Bands and WDW and more to do with creating a system that can be applied to the other Disney parks worldwide?

April 3, 2018 at 3:52 PM ·

Disney will not replace MagicBands any time soon, remember that they are mining a massive load of data with the bands. If they do away with the bands, then they lose their datapoints.

April 4, 2018 at 5:52 AM ·

@ - Why would they lose datapoints? Presumably, the MagicBands would be replaced by cell phones or other mobile devices connected to the parks' WiFi. Once you connect to the WiFi network, you agree to whatever Disney wants to put into their agreement, meaning Disney could use your device just like the MagicBands and perhaps even take the data mining even further.

April 4, 2018 at 11:12 PM ·

disney could do what facebook did. Once you connect to their wi-fi, disney gets to upload the name and phone numbers (and pictures) of all of your friends. I.e phone contacts.

April 5, 2018 at 8:09 AM ·

What I haven't seen anyone mention is the revenue stream Disney recognizes from Magic Bands. With all the IP branding and special event branding (Mickey's Not So Very Merry Christmas Party, etc) on those suckers Disney has an unlimited cash cow. Magic Bands aren't going anywhere.

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