Santa tracker: Google and Microsoft roll out their rival offerings

christmas apps version 1354728609 santa tracker
Google and Microsoft have once again fired up their respective Santa trackers in a bid to entertain the kids, and possibly a few adults, over the holiday season.

Google once partnered with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (better known as NORAD) for its tracker offering, though after Microsoft took its place in 2012 the Mountain View company has gone it alone.

Both sites have been given a makeover for 2014, mixing familiar features with a few new ones, and revamped mobile apps are also offered.

Building up to the 25th, Google’s colorful site lets you unlock a new game or project each day, while also subtly working in some educational elements, including “candy cane cartography, holiday tradition tests, and even jolly JavaScript courses.”

In a post announcing the arrival of this year’s tracker, Google’s Sandy Russell, described as the company’s ‘Santa Launch Strategist,’ wrote, “Whether you’re wearing snow goggles or sunnies this December, come back to Santa Tracker each day to join in on present parachute practice and reindeer races, or to send a call to friends from Santa.”

You can find the Web version of Google’s Santa tracker here, the Android app here, and there’s a Chrome extension, too (it’ll uninstall itself once Santa finishes his journey).

Related: DT’s 2014 holiday gift guide

Microsoft’s tracker , meanwhile, comes with a selection of games, movies, music, and a library with a mix of material to keep the kids entertained throughout the month.

Incorporating Bing Maps and working with NORAD, the company says that come Christmas Eve you’ll be able to track Santa on an interactive 3D globe optimized for touch. At each stop on Santa’s mammoth journey, you can “click off to a specially-curated Bing results page to get fun facts and beautiful imagery for each location,” Internet Explorer’s Steve Lake wrote in a post launching this year’s tracker.

Microsoft is evidently keen to incorporate its various tools and services into the tracker, this year integrating with Skype to let you send to loved ones “your favorite holiday traditions, memories, and wishes” and offering access to a NORAD Tracks Santa OneDrive page with downloadable coloring pages and “other fun content” for the kids.

Smartphone users can also pick up its free Santa Tracker app, available for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.

It all started some 60 years ago….

NORAD’s original Santa-tracking service began one Christmas Eve almost 60 years ago following an error made by a Colorado Springs newspaper.

A ‘hotline’ phone number offering kids the opportunity to call Santa was misprinted by the newspaper. It belonged to NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, which, as you can imagine, was inundated with calls from excited kids. The operators were good enough to play along and happily gave out updates on Santa’s whereabouts throughout the evening.

The simple printing error led to an annual tradition, with the Internet helping take it to a whole new level.

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