MagicBand UX is the Future


The MagicBand UX is the Future of UX, Here’s Why

The MagicBand UX is the future of UX, of this I am certain. What’s a MagicBand? It’s a device, website, app and user experience that the Walt Disney Company created to enable seamless interaction and eliminate friction across a variety of systems. Here’s why it’s the future of an excellent UX.

MagicBand-the-future-of-ux-UsefulUsability“Future of UX” seems like a rather bold statement, right?

But before you dismiss me as a blithering idiot, allow me to explain and show you the future via a great user experience.

First, let’s briefly define what we mean by a great UX (since there’s no such thing as a common definition for “UX,” a term everyone overuses to death).

Craig’s definition of great UX:

“Great user experience equals interactions that seamlessly cross boundaries of channels, systems and/or divisions with no friction.”

So what does this have to do with Disney’s MagicBand? I can definitely tell you that the user experience of MagicBand, or to be more specific the ability to have a seamless user experience across widely-differing systems and tasks, makes MagicBand an example of a great UX. It does this by making multiple parts of your life vastly easier without you having to even think about it.

For those of you who have no clue what a Disney MagicBand is, here’s a brief summary:

MagicBand-UsefulUsabilityThe MagicBand is an RF device that you wear like a watch or fitness band, and it simplifies your life by…

  • Opening your DisneyWorld hotel room door (so it’s a key)
  • Giving you access to a Disney airport bus and all DisneyWorld parks (so it’s a ticket)
  • Enabling you to instantly pay for food, services and merchandise (so it’s a credit card)
  • Facilitating making dinner or event registrations months in the future (so it’s a reservation pass)
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MagicBand-CloseUp-UsefulUsabilityAdd to this the ability to swim with it (it’s water resistant – but I wouldn’t dive to the bottom of the great barrier reef with it), the ability to personalize it (because the bands can be customized and you can add your name to it, mine is “Craigster.” Don’t judge me), and you can drop it and step on it without breaking it (because it’s rubber and plastic and yes, been there, dropped that, didn’t break it).

The MagicBand is coupled with the My Disney Experience website and app, which enables you to create your itinerary, reserve FastPass+ and restaurant times and book other activities. Together, they make a powerful system that eliminates much of the friction that formerly spoiled a fun vacation.

For those of you who have been to a Walt Disney park without the MagicBand, you know the friction that was and is inherent in the system.

DisneyWorld without MagicBand:

You had to show a ticket at the turnstile to enter the park. You had to pay for every meal, trinket, or Mickey Mouse ears hat by whipping out your credit card from your wallet, paying for it, and remembering to put your credit card back. You had to wait in line for your FastPass and you had to show your FastPass ticket at the turnstile when it was time to use it (assuming you hadn’t misplaced it – been there done that). Finally, exhausted after a long day of having fun you had to use your room key (assuming you hadn’t already lost it) to get into your room and drop like a bag of dirty clothes on the bed.

DisneyWorld with MagicBand:

MagicBand-in-use-usefulusabilityBut with MagicBand? Everything is better. That entire set of user experiences is now made frictionless by simply using your MagicBand.

You use your MagicBand to take the free shuttle bus from the airport to the Disneyworld hotel, and back.

You get into the turnstile at the park entrance with it.

You purchase your meals, trinkets and Mickey Mouse ears hats with it (I should mention here that you enter a 4 digit PIN as a security measure along with using your MagicBand, because the MagicBand is coupled to your credit card account).

Using MagicBand, there is no need to wait in line for obtaining a FastPass at a FastPass station, it’s now part of your mobile app which is connected to your MagicBand ID, so changing FastPass times is a breeze. and you go through the FastPass turnstyle by using your band (and yes, it knows if you’re trying to cheat by trying to show up too early).

Finally, your MagicBand lets you into your DisneyWorld park hotel room so you can fall gracefully onto your bed like a freshly cleaned and crisply ironed shirt (because you’ve enjoyed the seamless no-friction day in the park using your MagicBand).

MagicBand-in-use-UsefulUsabilityUsing the MagicBand eliminated a ton of the friction that typically comes with visiting a Disney park.

It made for a much more enjoyable and stress-free visit.

Instead of waiting in 2 hour lines or running across the park to get a space at a ride, we were able to actually enjoy our visit, just like the old days when we first started visiting DisneyWorld waaaaay back in the mid 1970s. (Yes, I’m that old, don’t judge us old-farts).

Why MagicBand represents the Future of UX

So why does MagicBand represent the future of an excellent UX? Simple!

Using the same scenario, you could in the near future be using your personalized “Band” (probably your Apple Watch or another Smart Watch or even an app on your phone – no need for a custom and extra band) to…

  • Pay for everything you buy whether at the grocery store, a retail store or a gift store
  • Grant you access to your front door, your car door, your apartment building front gate, your office door at work
  • Enable you to enter your venue whether a movie theater, a Broadway theater or your kids school theater
  • Track your body stats (heartbeat, steps, altitude, GPS, map your journey, etc.)
  • Be your watch and phone and personal alert system

Think about all the friction that a MagicBand type of UX could eliminate throughout the many tasks that make up the user experience of your day!

Until you’ve tried a MagicBand, the raves I’m lauding on it may not impress you. But I can assure you the friction a MagicBand eliminates, multiplied by the many, many use cases in which it could be utilized in everyday life, will revolutionize your daily user experience and eliminate a ton of your annoying friction.

Security and MagicBands:

And for those of you who are a bit paranoid, you may be asking…

“What about security? What if lost my band or someone steals it?”

In my vision of the near future, security is handled just like with your credit cards today. The security is provided via a two-step process.

  1. You must touch your device to a reader (it’s an RF device so near proximity ensures that only the device holder is using it), which reduces the chances of scammers using it virtually.
  2. You are required to use a 4 digit PIN (that you select) in conjunction with your Band, just like your credit card today.

And just like losing a credit card or having one stolen, losing a Band in the near future will not be that big a deal. The systems and processes are already in place to handle that. As with a credit card you may have lost, you’ll call the bank, notify them so they can kill your device (and don’t you just know that as soon as that’s done you’ll find the darn thing again?!). You’ll then go to your nearest bank branch to get your replacement, enter your PIN, and away you go.

Does MagicBand Mean Big Brother is Watching Me?

Wondering if the MagicBand means big brother is watching you? For those of you “Big Brother is Watching Me” types, if you are concerned about being tracked and observed by potentially dubious companies, individuals or your Government, welcome to the world of using your smartphones and credit cards (they are just as easily tracked my friends).

My attitude is, unless you’re completely living off the grid (in which case you’re not even reading this), only use cash for all purchases (you really feel comfortable carrying around a big enough wad of cash to buy a car or house? Really?), or live incognito with a fake name and Persona for nefarious reasons then don’t worry about it. Yes the MagicBand can be tracked, however this tracking is limited as the RF device only broadcasts to about 40 feet. Leave the proximity of local towers and tracking systems and you’re not being tracked. But really, big brother is most likely already tracking you via your other devices and using this device isn’t going to make that any better or worse.

In reality, the advantages of seamlessly being able to interact with multiple systems using just one Band handling all the tasks you typically do in a day in many ways makes up for the fact that yes, you could be tracked.

As a matter of fact, tracking might be a good thing, as any parent who’s stayed up at night worrying about where their son or daughter is could potentially have that information if there were a way to selectively turn on personal tracking.

MagicBand Drawbacks

MagicBand does have a few drawbacks. First, it’s a very expensive and extremely complex system behind the scenes. We’re talking Billions of Dollars that Disney had to invest to get this system running.

The MagicBand requires multiple networks, readers, antennae and tons of integrated back-end data systems and points that all have to play very nice together by connecting seamlessly. Just wiring DisneyWorld was a major endeavor requiring massive funds and investments of resources over multiple years.

Another obvious drawback is the MagicBand itself. Like the Nike Fuel or a Fitbit it is a device that has to be manufactured so there’s a cost there. It’s an extra “thing” you have to wear, and it costs you money. All negatives. Plus, because it is sealed the battery and RF transmitter have a shelf life which means after about 2 years you have a dead piece of plastic to further recycle or heaven forbid fill an already full landfill. The easier and lower-cost solution would be to just couple the apps that drive it into some other device like your Apple Watch, a smartphone or existing bands (like a Fuel or Fitbit).

Another major drawback to consider is who is going to pay for all this. Since so many systems are involved the investment to “MagicBand the U.S.” or even a large city is vast indeed. The powers-that-be in large and small companies may object to paying for the expense. After all, the systems to be integrated could potentially include vehicle manufacturers, door lock manufacturers, financial institutions, retail firms, restaurants, event centers, mobile networks, hotels, etc. etc. etc. Would everyone be willing to chip in to help make this vision a reality? I kind of doubt it.

In its current form the MagicBand requires special touch devices that you must touch your MagicBand against in order to enable your sales transaction or entrance to the park gate. Those are probably not cheap, and it’s highly unlikely that small mom-and-pop retailers or other establishments would be willing to pay for one. Although for all you Canadians you already are ahead of the curve on this, think about the user experience today of using your mobile credit card readers at restaurants to swipe your credit card, enter your PIN and approve your transaction.

Finally, these MagicBands and touch devices are pretty awkward to use from a heuristics perspective. I consistently found it difficult to touch the “sweet spot” to activate my transaction at turnstiles and shops without some deft manipulation of my wrist to get the Band in just the right spot. People with physical disabilities most likely have issues as well.

Conclusion: MagicBand is the Future of UX

Still, for all its issues, MagicBand does reflect the future of UX.

Most likely, further refinement could eliminate many of the flaws currently inherent in the MagicBand UX today, making it an even better user experience in the future.

The primary and most amazing thing however is the incredible freedom and friction-less way a MagicBand enables people to conduct multiple tasks for a variety of needs without even thinking about it. And in that regard, Disney has indeed created the future of UX.

Reducing friction is good UX, but eliminating it is great UX, and that’s what Disney’s MagicBand does at Disneyworld.

Put another way, the MagicBand user experience demonstrates how interactions that seamlessly cross boundaries of channels, systems and divisions with no friction can empower people and make for a much more enjoyable world.

MagicBand Additional Reading and Resources:

Wired Magazine’s excellent story on MagicBand with more details into the functionality and features.

FastCompany’s dark but fascinating inside story on the wars involved in the making of MagicBand.

Forbes story covering the announcement of the MagicBand rollout including listing functions that never happened (Characters greeting you by name for one).

New York Times original article announcing the rollout of the MagicBands, also including details on functions that eventually did, and did not happen.

Disney MagicBand page with more information on how the device and applications work.