McDonald's seeks salvation in apps, mobile payments, wearables and other tech

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We live in a world where some people say they'd buy wearable technology from McDonald's. It sounds crazy, but that's actually part of what McDonald's may be testing for its restaurant experience of the future. 

McDonald's needs to think up a new future, even faster than it can already flip burgers. The food giant has watched its popularity slide, and its adventurous days of high-end burgersunorthodox toppingspizza and wings are also long behind it. Even if you never ordered these special items, you appreciated the freshness they brought to a tired formula. 

After failing to reinvent its food, however, the burger chain is now seeking salvation through technology. According to Co.Design, McDonald's is planning a high-tech overhaul for the next five years, spearheaded by Atif Rafiq, the company's first chief digital officer.

Some McDonald's locations already have quick-order kiosks, but in the future these could be personalized with the tap of your smartphone or smartwatch. Diners would then see their order history and “Amazon-like recommendations” based on their preferences.

To make sure the chain's underpaid workers aren't completely cut out, McDonald's could add table service so you could order ahead, have a seat, and let the wait staff find you via location-tracking beacons . From there, it's just a short hop to more advanced wearable integration. Need to flag an employee to bring you some ketchup or a sundae? Just wave your nerd watch in the air, and it'll notify the staff. Disney's MagicBand could be the role model to beat.

Why this matters: This is all pretty theoretical for now, and it won't actually change the food that's increasingly driving people away from McDonald's to “fast casual” alternatives. But maybe it'll put some wind behind a restaurant that seems to have lost its direction.

On the other hand, an influx of apps, wearable features and near-field communications may only serve to highlight the robotic nature of the fast-food industry. A technological revamp could render McDonald's even more lifeless than it has already become.

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