My real first experience with wearable technology was about six months ago when I embarked on a quick family vacation to Disney World. After booking our hotel we were lucky enough to be invited to participate in Disney’s new MyMagic program. It’s a $1 billion investment in wearable technology that will allow Disney unprecedented access to data about participants – including where they are, what they buy, and ultimately what they may do next.
Armed with our Magic Bands, my family and I worked the park for nearly a week using it for everything from opening our hotel room door to securing our Fast Passes to even placing our order for food at the Be Our Guest restaurant kiosk. In fact, after doing so, we were told to sit anywhere in the massive dining hall and our food would be ready and delivered to our table in 15 minutes. Sure enough the order was brought directly to our table with the kids asking, “How did they find us?” To which I responded, “Well, it’s magic!” OK, more like the Magic Bands, to be precise, and the radio frequency identification chips that were inside them that allowed the server to find our exact location within the large dining hall.
While there are some critics of the technology calling it an invasion of privacy and “creepy,” I can only speak for myself and the reactions and impact the technology had on my family’s last experience at Disney by saying – WOW, sign us up. In an article in Business Week last month, Disney’s Tom Staggs, who is head of the company’s parks and resort unit, summarized it best, saying the goal of the MyMagic program was to create what he calls “a more immersive, more seamless, and more personal experience.” And that is exactly what I felt it did in spades. It ultimately created a whole new and differentiated Disney experience for me and my family.
In fact, it would be hard to do Disney again without it. As someone in the industry, my wheels started turning by day two as I looked to see how an already amazing experience could potentially be enhanced further. What if the Magic Band had an interface like a smart watch that allowed me to get an offer after coming off the Toy Story ride and into the Toy Story store as my daughter looked at the Jessie doll? What if I could share and post to a social media site from my Magic Band? The promise of wearable technology is an exciting topic and will, without a doubt, redefine the interactions we all have with the brands we love and – more importantly – trust. That includes trusting those brands with our data, because they use it to improve our experience and create value.
My experience was so inspiring that upon my return home I began researching smart watches and placed my order for a brand new Pebble Steel Smart Watch to further immerse myself in the technology. After waiting more than a month for my new watch, I finally received it and began exploring. Realizing that this is still new, here are the five things I like best about my smart watch.
- Convenience and Accessibility: My watch buzzes often – alerting me to the latest posts, updates, emails, and calls via notifications. The frequency in which I pull out my phone to check it has been dramatically reduced and in a way I feel more efficient, attentive in meetings, and productive overall.
- Apps: Foursquare, Yelp, and a growing list of apps and interactive games are available via the Pebble App store. I especially love the health and fitness apps allowing me to count steps without having to remember my Fitbit – another wearable device. While only eight apps can be loaded to the watch at any given time, you can swap them out as your needs change. The winners here will be those that can combine multiple needs (watch, phone, Fitbit, health monitoring, etc.) into a single device i.e. a smart watch with smartphone interactivity/functional – remember Get Smart.
- Social Community Feed Aggregation: Like many of the readers of this column, I manage and engage with multiple social communities a day including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, and more. Activity across these various sites can be a bear to manage and the thought of missing an update from my network can, at times, be enough to induce some social networking anxiety. Scrolling through the dozens of updates on the watch is efficient and helpful – allowing me to promptly engage at my convenience to the one in 10 posts that interest me the most.
- Future Functionality/Capabilities: This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of wearables. Technology innovations and an increase in strategic agreements among vendors and developers will fuel further adoption and usage in the coming years. Add to that the expanded capabilities in the health care sector, including various monitoring capabilities for medical conditions for an aging baby boomer generation, and it is easy to see how forecasts that predict the tripling of wearable devices over the next five years may be considered conservative.
- Style/Cool Factor: The Pebble has style and flexibility, allowing me to change interfaces like I change my suits with five different watch faces to keep it fresh and interesting.
Wearables are here to stay and will only get more interesting as innovative brands like Disney, the NFL, GM, and other “infotainment” brands leverage wearables and mobile technology to redefine how we interact with their brands. These bold brands will look to create new experiences and value to further differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Retailers, too, will increasingly get into the act as fast followers as they look to redefine the in-store shopping experience. However, the real growth in wearables will be driven (at least initially) by the fitness, wellness, and health care segments.
For many of these segments, smart watches will be the device of choice as they help monitor us, collect and display data, and provide us valuable real-time updates to help make us smarter, more productive, and connected to the people that matter and care for us. We are at the beginning of what promises to be one of the most amazing technology capabilities we have seen in some time – stay tuned.