Merry (almost) Christmas! As we wrap up another year, it’s time for one of our favorite seasonal activities – the TechRadar Santa Tracker! Using the two most popular trackers, NORAD and Google, we’ll bring you live updates as St Nick makes his way around the world.
Santa tracking is now a popular tradition, but it all started by chance almost 70 years ago. As legend has it, a Sears catalog mistakenly printed the Colorado Springs Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center’s phone number instead of a Santa hotline on Christmas 1955, and began receiving calls from children hoping to speak to Klaus himself.
CONAD saw an opportunity for some festive fun and began publishing press releases about Santa’s whereabouts each year. Tradition took hold and CONAD handed over the reins to NORAD (the North American Air Defense Command) after its formation in 1958.
While NORAD’s Santa Tracker has historically been the go-to resource for tracking Santa’s whereabouts, there are now a plethora of ways families and big kids alike can track down Kris Kringle.
The best of them is made by Google, which released its own Santa Tracker in 2004. It offers a completely different experience than NORAD, but is still just as fun.
Santa Tracker: Norad vs Google
You have two main choices when it comes to tracking down Santa – both offer different ways to follow the merry St Nick, but it depends on what experience you’re looking for.
Norad Santa Tracker (opens in new tab)
The original way to follow Santa and, some would say, the best. This website, run by the US military, mixes gruff colonels presenting a video about Santa Claus with up-to-the-minute information about the whereabouts of the man in the big red suit.
You can download the app on the App Store (opens in new tab) or Google Play Store (opens in new tab)and from there you will be presented with a number of mini games to play as well as being able to follow the progress of the current rewarding live.
It’s a much more rudimentary experience than other trackers out there, lacking a lot of polish and web design.
But it’s also the most popular and has the heartwarming story behind it – as well as an army of volunteers ready to take your call to find out where Santa is.
NORAD has also added an AI chatbot called Radar to help you spot Santa too, if you can’t be bothered with all that chatter, which is kind of lovely. But if you can be bothered, then you can also dial +1 (877) HI-NORAD.
Google Santa Tracker
How to play the Santa games on mobile
Every year, when we publish this guide, we have people wondering how to play the games on mobile like the big “PLAY!” the button in the middle of the screen sometimes fails and will only give you random games or video anyway. Well, just go to the Santa Tracker (opens in new tab) on a mobile browser, click the three lines in the upper left corner and see all the games to play. (Note – the “install” option, which tells you to “Add to Home Screen”, does not work on iPhones).
Google’s Santa Tracker, a more recent addition to the Santa tracking mix, has been around since 2004, combining the power of Google Maps with the expert knowledge of Santa’s whereabouts.
While Google doesn’t have the same satellite tracking power as NORAD, one has to assume that the search giant has struck a deal with the North Pole to find out where he is in real time using search and radar and lazers and… stuff. Don’t ask us to interpret the magic.
Backing up the Santa Tracker is a host of mini-games to play, as well as a month-long website that encourages kids to learn to code while encountering a wintry landscape.
There are a few moments of pro-Google tools in this Santa Tracker – the Quick Draw game is designed to teach Google’s image recognition Tensor to improve, which feels a little odd – but it’s a fantastically designed website and arguably the most visually accessible way to follow Santa.
You can download the app from the Google Play Store, but in our eyes the mobile site is just as good and accessible for iPhone users, plus Google’s Santa Tracker has the best and easiest desktop experience as well.