Even Disney Struggles with Mobile Apps

disney Well, I finally gave in and did the big Disney and Universal Studios vacation this year.  My son is a huge Harry Potter fan and experienced the whole series in all forms of media (books, movies and even audio books).  So the primary goal was both Universal Harry Potter areas (Hogsmead in Islands of Adventure…Diagonalley in Universal Studios).  While we were down in Orlando, I thought it would be great to do the Disney parks too (that way, we wouldn’t have to go back to Orlando for a long time!).

Fortunately, this is not a review of the theme parks.  There’s plenty of websites out there that have all that information…and, as expected, we had a great time.  Of course, Disney is always written up as one of the companies with the best customer service and our overall experience at the parks and with employees…er…”cast members” validated all the articles.  However, when it came to Disney’s app, myDisneyExperience, I was stunned at how non-Disney it is!

Now, granted, the app has a nice look and feel; and the app holds your plans when you create a user account.  So the idea is that the app is a one-stop-shop for all things Disney.  Its an ambitious app and it seems that they took on too much.  I was pretty amazed at the psychological affect that a bad app can have on the overall experience.  As Disney Institute says, each interaction with a cast member is a moment of truth and even one bad one has a negative affect on the guest.  Unfortunately, Disney may not realize that their app is one of their newest cast members and customers are having bad “moments of truth” with it all day long.  Given the resources that Disney has at their disposal, I was amazed at some of the problems with the app and it made my opinion drop of Disney overall.

The first major problem with the app are the timeouts and unhelpful error messages when trying to access the FastPass+ section.  When at different parks on different days (and mind you, these were not there during the most peak periods), myself and many others were simply unable to access anything about the FastPass+.  The mouse icon would just keep spinning indefinitely or a message would pop up that this area was simply not available right now.  This wasn’t just my experience.  I noticed that others with a variety of phones and carriers had the same issue.  My thought is that if I’m Disney, I know how many people are at the parks each day…and I would assume that most of them will download and use the app.  That would give me the performance testing target I need.  If it couldn’t handle the peak loads, I should back-out the functionality.

The other really annoying thing about the FastPass+ functionality is the weird choices that are given to app users vs. the kiosks in the parks.  When I finally was able to view FastPass+ options (the night before we went to a park), I would select the items I wanted and it would give me  sets of choices for times and rides.  Every time, it seemed that the times and rides didn’t match our general plans.  When I deselected one or two rides, different times would be displayed with the ride I had selected…Hhhmmm…so different times are displayed depending on the combination of rides you select? Doesn’t make much sense to me.  Now, when I went to the kiosks (staffed with the consistently helpful cast members), it seemed much simpler and easier to see what options were available.  So for some reason, the kiosks used a different approach to scheduling FastPass+ rides than the app…now again that didn’t seem to make much sense to me.

So with the performance issues coupled with the convolutedness (is that a word?) of the mobile app, I’d rather they just push everyone to the kiosks where friendly cast members can at least help all guests…instead of me wasting tons of time trying to make the darn app work.

Now, that’s not the only non-helpful aspect of the app.  In various places they appear to give helpful information only to fall way, way short.  Here are a couple examples.

You would think that the maps part of the app would be just stellar.  While they do have intuitive maps, getting to them was almost always more work than it needs to be.  For example, when you look at wait times for the ride, there is an option for viewing the ride on the map.  That’s straightforward enough; but when you view it, there is no other information on the map.  So when you see a 45 minute wait time and you’re wondering what other rides (and their wait times) are close by, you can’t do it.  Many times, the information on the map is also not the default display.  So users must click a separate button to show the map information…very annoying.

Another piece of functionality that should be just removed from the app is the ancillary information that is just not helpful at all.  The bus information is a great example of it.  There’s a nice bus system that will allow guests to go between parks, to Downtown Disney, to the water parks, and hotels.  Here is all of the information currently in the app about it, “Relax and enjoy the ride with complimentary, air-conditioned bus service throughout Walt Disney World Resort”.  That’s it!  One sentence! 100% of it.  What would be more helpful is something like this, “…while there is bus service that goes to Typhoon Lagoon, all buses from Typhoon Lagoon travel only to Epcot.  You can transfer to another bus (or other transportation option) at Epcot to get to your final destination…”  As you might expect, this is from personal experience.  We just wanted to travel from Typhoon Lagoon to Downtown Disney (maybe 1 mile) and quickly found out that “you can’t get there from here”.  So we had to figure it out ourselves.  Now again, the Disney cast members were very nice and helpful.  So it wasn’t a big deal.  However, the moral to the story is, “If you can’t put something really helpful in your app, don’t do it.”  It was a waste of programming to add information about bus service that helps no one.

So what’s the point to all this? …for one, to warn everyone in advance about certain parts of the app…but more importantly it is to point out that ALL organizations are struggling with mobile apps.  If Disney has trouble, then you know that everyone will too.  The approach to apps must be to scale back the functionality to only the MOST value-added functions.  In contrast to myDisneyExperience, we used the Uber app when we were in Orlando (specifically to get to non-Disney places).  Uber is very stripped down and doesn’t do a whole lot, but it worked flawlessly every time.  I realize that it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison; but app-to-app, Uber didn’t add a bunch of bells and whistles and it was a better customer experience than Disney!


Veteran technology professional and manager

Posted in programming

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