Some common experiences are likely to get makeovers in 2014 -- how you dine out, enjoy a day at a theme park, and even interact with your smartphone. It may not seem that way now, but the year has just begun.
1. Tablets at the Table.
Applebee's turned heads last month when it announced that it would have a tablet at every table by the end of 2014. DineEquity (DIN) -- Applebee's parent company -- has ordered 100,000 touchscreen devices that will allow guests to order from an online menu, play games while they wait for their food, and then pay at the end of the meal without help from a waiter or waitress.
Among the drawbacks inherent to the casual dining experience in our rushed era are having to flag down a waiter to place your order, and then try to get the attention of a waitress to send you the bill. Applebee's will still have a wait staff on hand for those that prefer to go the traditional route (not to mention to bring you your food), but E la Carte's Presto tablets will be at the table to speed things along for those that want it.
Naturally there are benefits for Applebee's. The tablet's website claims that the average customer winds up spending 10 percent more when given perpetual access to a tablet's order screen. Guests also clear out seven minutes earlier, on average, giving restaurants the ability to feed more patrons during the course of the day.
Applebee's is the only major chain to hop on the tablet bandwagon so far, but you can expect that to change if customers begin choosing it over rivals because they relish the high-tech convenience.
2. Making Reservations in Advance to Meet Mickey at Disney World.
One of Disney's (DIS) most ambitious projects began falling into place in 2013 when it began testing MyMagic+ on select resort hotel guests at Disney World in Florida. They were given bracelets allowing them to book ride and attraction reservations before even arriving at the park.
The test will expand to all park visitors this year, presenting guests with the opportunity to prearrange everything from FastPass ride times to personalized character greetings. They can use their smartphones alongside the park's official app to make changes on the fly or visit in-park kiosks.
The goal is to naturally enhance the theme park experience. A Disney vacation isn't cheap. Keeping guests out of long lines makes a trip more enjoyable, and it also increases the chances for merchandise and food sales. Disney also reasons that a more engaged customer will keep coming back instead of checking out rival attractions.
3. Never Leaving Home Without Your Smartwatch.
Wearable computing started to gain traction last year, and this month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas saw many consumer tech companies showing off new smartwatches that do everything from monitor fitness activity to telling you when you've been out in the sun for too long.
The more popular smartwatches are naturally the ones that use Bluetooth to communicate with smartphones. Incoming calls and texts can now be retrieved on your wrist, saving you the trouble of having to fumble through pockets or purses.
Armed with the phone's Web access, smartphones can also run apps, provide weather updates, and even play games.
History will point to 2013 as the year that the smartphone arrived, but 2014 is the year that it will become ubiquitous. It's about time, you know.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.
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