Matt Witmer


Universal Orlando using iBeacon

Just got home from a trip to Orlando, doing the whole Disney and Universal deal and one of the things I was most excited to try was Disney's new MyMagic+. The ability for me to use my phone and accompanying wristband to unlock my room, get in the parks, charge purchases, link ride photos amongst many other things is something my nerd self loves. This experience worked just about flawlessly with a hiccup here and there. The thing that makes it all the more impressive is going from Disney to Universal, where there is a card or piece of paper for just about everything (room key, park ticket, Express Pass, and if you are on the dinning plan, a separate card per person per day). Every day I had 4 cards or pieces of paper in a lanyard around my neck. (Side note: why is it that the park ticket is regular old paper and not plastic like your customized room key?)

Just a few days before I departed for Orlando, Universal Orlando released their official iPhone app and I jumped on it right away as it offered real-time wait times. Fast forward a couple days, I'm walking around Islands of Adventure and curious of a ride time, I pop open the app and I'm greeted with a Location Accuracy popup that stated "Turning on Bluetooth will improve location accuracy".

Knowing my Apple technology my immediate thought was iBeacon and a quick google search verified my assumption and brought me to the Terms and Use at which explicitly mentions 'Apple iBeacon' under (d) Location-Based Features:

... This data may be retained by NBCUniversal and may be used for, but is not limited to, internal and analytical purposes to ensure the integrity of the wireless network and Apple iBeacon system, to identify wait times and visitation trends for rides, shows and attractions, and to improve your experience within our resort destination. We may use aggregate information to better understand guest behavior and make improvements to the guest experience (e.g., managing queue line wait times and improving traffic flow).
— Universal Orlando Terms of Service

In my travels around the parks I didn't notice any iBeacons like Estimote's, so this could be something they are just starting to roll out but they could just as easily be very well hidden. Technology-wise these are essentially the same thing as Disney's implementation except instead of wearing the 'dumb' device around your wrist, it will be mounted on a wall in a shop or in a queue and your phone will see it and notify you via your Bluetooth-equipped phone phone of any pertinent information.

Personally, I'm all for anything that will make the park experience more enjoyable whether it by tracking or any other means but there are some who aren't a fan of being watched, so just remember in order for any of this tracking to happen you have to install the Universal Orlando app other wise you're all safe and the eye in the Universal Orlando sky has no clue where you are.

It will be interesting to see what Universal can do with this, surely managers in the soon to open Diagon Alley will happily take as much crowd information as they can get. That being said, I'm not sure it can completely match the functionality of something like Disney's MagicBands but it's certainly nice to see them taking a step in the right direction.