Santa trackers: Google and Microsoft face off, with Google’s offering kids coding lessons

Companies create delivery trackers for Father Christmas every year — this year using coding lessons and NORAD tie-ins to stand out from each other

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 02 December 2014 11:11 GMT
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More than 1,000 volunteers clad in Santa Claus costumes throw their hats in the air as they gather to deliver gifts for the poor in downtown Seoul
More than 1,000 volunteers clad in Santa Claus costumes throw their hats in the air as they gather to deliver gifts for the poor in downtown Seoul

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Louise Thomas

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Google and Microsoft have each unveiled their Santa Trackers, the tools that will help children keep track of St Nick’s delivery schedule on Christmas morning.

Google’s tracker depicts a small, Google-themed, snowy village — complete with a giant countdown to Santa’s arrival. As the days pass, challenges, puzzles and games will be unlocked, with some of them involving small coding projects to teach basic Javascript.

The Santa Tracker can be accessed online, through a Google app, or broadcast to TVs using the company’s Chromecast.

Google’s Santa Tracker used to be run in conjunction with North American Aesrospace Defence Command (NORAD), but the aerospace organisation — whose day job is protecting the skies over Canada and the US — moved to partner with Microsoft instead. NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955, with the program initially being run over the phone.

Microsoft has also launched its tracker, which depicts a similar Arctic village. The tracker can be accessed online, as well as through iOS, Android and Windows apps, and uses Microsoft’s Bing Maps.

The tradition began in 1955, when a Sears department store published an invitation to young readers to contact Santa. But the store published the wrong number, instead directing people to Colorado Springs' Continental Air Defense Command (Conad) Centre.

The colonel on duty that night, Harry Shoup, told his staff to play along with the mistake, giving telephoning children a current location for Santa Claus. The tradition began that night, and continued when Norad replaced Conad three years later.

It has grown ever since — Norad now takes on volunteers to man the phones and handle the 12,000 emails and 70,000 telephone calls that come in from more than two hundred countries. And Norad has taken to new technologies to keep children up-to-date on Santa's progress, detailing his location overnight on social media as well as through the santa trackers.

Santa has to deliver presents to an estimated 1.6 billion children on Christmas Eve. That requires him to visit 822 homes a second at 650 miles a second — 3,000 times the speed of sound.

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