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 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 accident almost 70 years ago. As legend would have it, a Sears catalog accidentally printed the phone number of the Colorado Springs Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center instead of a Santa hotline on Christmas Day 1955, and began receiving calls from children hoping to speak with Klaus himself.
Seeing an opportunity for some festive fun, CONAD began publishing press releases about Santa’s whereabouts each year. Tradition took hold, and CONAD handed over the reins to NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) after its formation in 1958.
While NORAD’s Santa Tracker has historically been the most important resource for tracking Santa’s whereabouts, there are now a multitude of ways for families and big kids alike to scout for 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 Santa – both offer different ways to follow jolly ol’ St Nick, but it depends on the experience you’re looking for.
Norad Santa Tracker (opens in a new tab)
The original way to follow Santa Claus and, some would say, the best. This website, run by the US military, mixes gruff colonels presenting a video about Santa Claus with live, up-to-date information on the whereabouts of the man in the big red suit.
You can download the app on the App Store (opens in a new tab) or the Google Play Store (opens in a new tab)and from there you will be presented with a variety of mini-games to play as well as being able to follow the progress of the current gi live.
It’s a far more rudimentary experience than other trackers out there, lacking a lot of polish and website design.
However, it’s also the most popular and has the heartwarming story behind it – as well as an army of volunteers ready to answer your phone 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 talk, which is kind of nice. But if you can be bothered, calling +1 (877) HI-NORAD will also do the trick.
Google Santa Tracker
How to play the Santa Claus 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 videos anyway. Well, just go to Santa Tracker (opens in a new tab) website on a mobile browser, click the three lines in the top left corner and see all the games you can play. (Note – the ‘install’ option, which tells you to ‘Add to Home Screen’, does not work on iPhones).
A more recent addition to the Santa tracking mix, Google’s Santa Tracker has been around since 2004, combining the power of Google Maps with the 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 lasers and… stuff. Don’t ask us to interpret the magic.
Backing up the Santa Tracker is a whole 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 some pro-Google tools moments in this Santa Tracker – the Quick Draw game is designed to teach Google’s image recognition Tensor to improve, which feels a little strange – but it’s a wonderfully designed site and arguably the most visually accessible the way to follow Santa Claus.
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 to use desktop experience as well.