Disney 's (NYSE: DIS) beefing up the mobile app experience for guests visiting its theme parks in Florida and California this summer. The media giant will be introducing the Play Disney Parks app for iOS and Android devices, giving visitors location-specific activities that interact with the surrounding environment -- presumably through augmented reality.
Disney's original in-park app isn't going away. My Disney Experience was launched at Disney World five years ago, giving guests a high-tech way to navigate through the parks, browse wait times, and schedule and modify dining and FastPass expedited queue reservations. It has continued to update that app's functionality over the years, perpetually raising the bar. Disney is hoping that the new app will merely enhance the experience with themed diversions and insights, ideally increasing visitor engagement.
The Play's the thing
"With the touch of a button, wait time turns into play time with family and friends at certain locations," according to the official Disney parks blog. "And the more you explore in Disney parks, the more there is to discover on the app. This is just the latest way we are making a visit to our parks even more fun and memorable in new and innovative ways."
Traditionalists will shake their heads. The last thing they want to see is a lavishly themed queue experience aglow with their fellow parkgoers engaged in games of Disney trivia or populating their surroundings with virtual animated characters on their smartphone screens. Purists will bump into guests navigating for hidden Mickey Mouse symbols or playing parkwide scavenger hunts. But that's happening already anyway. Disney just rightfully -- and brilliantly -- wants to take the time-eating app choices in-house.
A day at one of Disney's six domestic theme parks isn't cheap. And if someone feels that the lull between ride experiences can be more enjoyable with Disney-developed activities that encourage group play within one's family or with fellow park guests, it's not a bad thing. It's optional, after all.
Disney knows what it's doing when it comes to mobile development. My Disney Experience has evolved intelligently over the years. Folks can now use the existing app to order online from a growing number of quick-service restaurants, shaving wait times during peak dining hours. Folks staying at on-site hotels can use it to check in online or unlock their doors.
There are no public details on what the available diversions will be when the new app launches in a few weeks. Even if it's something as basic as using augmented reality to render Toy Story characters on the camera lens as guests snake along the long Slinky Dog Dash coaster queue, or giving Matterhorn riders facts about the actual Alps, it's easy to see how the app can develop over time into something that will make folks want to visit the parks more often. The entire theme park can become a virtual playground, making every trip through the turnstiles a unique experience.
Disney's theme park business was the only segment to grow for the media giant in fiscal 2017. There's a lot riding on the success of the division, and if things are going well, one can only imagine how busy the parks will be when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in 2019 on both coasts. The lines will likely be even longer then, and staying one step ahead of its visitors by enhancing the downtime is just the kind of thing that Walt Disney himself would do if he were still around today.
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