In case you missed it this weekend, here's my story about a down-on-his-luck dad who created iPhone applications for wait times at theme parks, and how Walt Disney World is working on it's own mobile application for Verizon Wireless customers. Disney announced that project with Verizon in November, but there have been no updates yet as to when exactly it will launch this year:
Now an iPhone can do more than just help you kill time while waiting in theme-park lines: it can help you avoid them altogether.
Jacksonville father of four Brent Pope, 44, released a series of applications called Wait Watchers, which shows wait times for Disney and Universal theme-park attractions -- and costs 99 cents per theme park.
First came the app for Disney's Magic Kingdom, released two weeks ago. This week, he released versions for Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot, as well as Universal's Islands of Adventure. He also has created an app for Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and Universal Studios Hollywood. One for Universal Studios Orlando is on its way.
The applications depend on parkgoers to keep the information up to date. Using Global Positioning System technology, the application allows users to submit a wait-time update only if they are in the theme park.
Think you can shoo away crowds by greatly exaggerating a ride's wait time? Think it would be funny to say the hardly ever crowded Carousel of Progress has a 110-minute wait? Pope's prepared for that and will block an iPhone ID if a user gets flagged multiple times for sending totally wrong times.
''They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in my case, recession was the mother of invention,'' said Pope, who was laid off three months ago from his job as a creative director at an advertising firm.
But losing his job didn't stop a spring-break family trip to Walt Disney World. He often wished he could know a line was going to be long before having to trek across an entire park with four kids in tow. It wasn't until he returned from his trip that the idea sparked. He hired programmers from a company called Phodder to build and manage the app.
Disney has been working on its own mobile magic with Verizon Wireless for several months to create a richer application that would allow Verizon customers to get updated information on attraction wait times, as well as locate shows, restaurants and Disney characters in the parks. It also will let guests play mobile games and get messages from Disney characters.
The application will be released sometime in 2009, according to Disney. And there will be some mobile features available for park guests without Verizon.
Disney fanatics have been creating books, online guides, podcasts and forums centered on a love for the Mouse for years. Social communities that share information -- what Pope's app depends on -- are no exception.
Pope said his app will be useful if at least 12 people in each park contribute data to it throughout the day. His next update will include a countdown for showtimes.
''It's definitely a gamble being completely dependent on a community of people to create content,'' said Forrester analyst Vidya L. Drego. ``It all depends if you end up targeting a group of people that feel it is worth their time.''
Other theme-park apps already are available in the iTunes store, including ones for park maps, Disney trivia and guides to finding Hidden Mickeys -- images of The Big Cheese throughout the parks.
''It shows the strength of our brand,'' said Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger.
Disney's partnership with Verizon is currently available in an Epcot park attraction, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, where guests go on a scavenger hunt around the park and are given Verizon devices to interact with clues.
Pope said this is just the first wave of theme-park apps he plans on creating. But don't count on him for any apps for Disney's water parks. ''I don't even like my iPhone being next to a glass a water!'' he said.