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Is Disney World's Top Rival About to Make MagicBands Obsolete?

Image source: Disney. 

Disney (NYSE: DIS) has reportedly spent a billion dollars on the MyMagic+ technology that fuels the MagicBands that guests at its Florida resort wear to get in the park, access expedited FastPass queues, and trigger some pretty nifty features. Guests staying at a one of the resort's hotels can also use the RFID chip-embedded bracelets to open up their rooms or finalize financial transactions.

MagicBands are pretty cool, but rival Universal Orlando may be working on something even better. Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal recently released new information about Volcano Bay, the Pacific-isle themed water park that will open at Universal Orlando early next summer.

The park's wearable tech is TapuTapu, a waterproof bracelet that will allow guests to avoid waiting in long queues while also triggering interactive water features throughout the park. TapuTapu will be available to guests at no additional charge. Folks donning the high-tech wristbands will be able to tap stations at the entrance of the park's flagship body slides and raft rides, reserving their place in the queues virtually. They can then go about enjoying the watery oasis' other diversions. TapuTapu will vibrate when it's time to come back and experience the ride without having to wait in the long lines that folks typically associate with popular water parks.

Another neat TapuTapu trick is the "tap-to-play" feature. The TapuTapu wearables can trigger water cannons at unsuspecting guests floating through the lazy river, illuminate projections in the signature volcano's caves, and make water spurt out of the blowholes of whale figurines in the kiddie play area with a simple tap.

Building a better mousetrap

Image source: Author.

MagicBands can do some pretty cool things at Disney World. Boarding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family coaster automatically ties the on-board photos to your MagicBand account. Walk through the immersive queues at select attractions and wearer names with their hometowns become part of the experience.

However, the biggest shortfall of the MagicBand -- and the biggest benefit of TapuTapu -- is that Disney's bracelet doesn't offer two-way communication. A MagicBand isn't battery powered. It's just an RFID chip in a rubbery bracelet, sending information to Disney chip readers throughout the park. Your MagicBand won't vibrate when your favorite costumed character is nearby or when wait times are short at your most ridden attractions. A MagicBand won't make Winnie the Pooh's honey pot spin or elephant figures splash riders at Kali River Rapids.

Disney is at the mercy of massaging that information and spitting it back in useful ways through smartphone apps, but you can never rely on mobile as a universally and constantly available platform. If TapuTapu technology works its way into Comcast's two existing Universal Orlando theme parks -- and there's no denying that this will be a test before expanding it resortwide if it sticks -- Comcast will have a rare technology advantage over the larger competitor that invested $1 billion in tech that's about to be dethroned as the industry's gold standard.

TapuTapu is a silly name, but Comcast is the one setting itself up for the last laugh here. If Disney's smart, it will rush to put out powered wearables before Universal Orlando's theme parks follow the evolutionary path, but one thing that Disney hasn't been in recent years is nimble.   

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.