Santa Tracker live: how to follow Santa with Norad or Google

Santa Tracker

(Image credit: Google)

We're back for another year of Santa Tracking, where we'll be bringing you all the updates from the top Santa trackers all over the world - and this year, we'll be live-blogging the experience for you too.

There are a variety of ways to track Santa these days thanks to the advent of the smartphone, so if you're looking to find out precisely when you're going to get your presents, that's what we're here for.

The tradition began in 1955 when, legend has it, a child mistakenly called Colorado Springs' Continental AIr Defense Command (CONAD) Center after a misprint in a Sears catalog for a number to call to speak to Santa.

The American military realized this was a PR dream, and began putting out press releases on the whereabouts of Santa each year, with comical stories added in too - in the early 1980s, a hotline was added to allow people to call to find out where he s.

Fast forward to today and there are a number of ways to find out what's happening to Santa - and these are the key ones to look out for.

Santa Tracker: Norad vs Google

You've got two main choices when it comes to tracking Santa - both offer different ways of following jolly ol' St Nick, but it depends on the experience you're looking for.

Norad Santa Tracker

The original way of following Santa and, some would say, the best. This website, run by the US military, fuses gruff colonels presenting a video about Santa Claus with live, up-to-the-minute info on where the man in the big red suit is.

You can download the app on the App Store or Google Play Store, and from there you'll be presented with a number of mini games to play as well as being able to follow the progress of the present giving 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 heart-warming history behind it - as well as an army of volunteers ready to take your call to find out where Santa is.

NORAD has also added in an AI chatbot called Radar to help you spot Santa too, if you can't be bothered with all that talking, which is a bit lovely. But if you can bothered, then dialling +1 (877) HI-NORAD will do the trick too.

Google Santa Tracker

How to play the Santa games on mobile

SAnta tracker

(Image credit: Google)

Every year, when we publish this guide, we have people wondering how to play the games on mobile as the big 'PLAY!' button in the middle of the screen sometimes fails and will only ever give you random game or video anyway. Well, just go to the Santa Tracker site on a mobile browser, click the three lines in the top left-hand corner and see all the games to play. (Note - the 'install' option, which tells you to 'Add to Home Screen' doesn't work on iPhones).

A more recent addition to the Santa tracking mix, Google's Santa Tracker has still been going since 2004, combining the power of Google Maps with the savvy knowledge of where Father Christmas is.

While Google doesn't have the same satellite tracking power of NORAD, one has to assume the search giant has struck a deal with the North Pole to figure 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 are a whole host of minigames to play, as well as a month-long website encouraging children to learn to code while they encounter a winter wonderland.

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 bit odd - but it's a wonderfully-designed site 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, simple-to-use desktop experience too.

Well, here we are. Santa is set to take off in just a few hours, and we'll be following his progress closely. Here's a taste of what you can expect from last year, when he was sailing over the Taj Majal - Google showed him landing gifts for thousands of children, with a total of how many presents he's dispensed.

Spoiler, he does loads. Even with the magic of the sleigh, I'm not sure how he manages to carry them all, but I've watched enough Christmas films to know never to question the magic lest he miss my house this year.

Google Santa Tracker India

Santa delivering gifts to the Taj Mahal in India last year (Image credit: Google)

More ways to talk to Santa than ever

Google Home Hub

(Image credit: Google)

Can't be bothered calling or using the internet with your fingers?

You can use Google Assistant to communicate directly with the patron of presents (either using Google Assistant baked into you Android phone, the Google app on iPhone in some regions or a Google-enabled smart speaker), allowing anyone to say 'Hey Google, what's new at the North Pole' and hear the latest news updates from Santa's world.

Chatting to the Radar AI

(Image credit: Future)

I thought it might be fun to try our Radar, NORAD's chatbot, to see how it was getting on before Santa Claus takes off.

It's not the most together of articifial intelligence at this time, but he's probably like me and so excited for Christmas that it can hardly sleep - deprivation of the zzz's makes anything hard.

Google uses this Santa Tracker as a way of learning more about its systems and tools, letting its developers play with computer and mobile interactions in new ways.

According to a blog post, they don't always work though...

" One engineer who focused on AI and human movement came up with this idea for a game where you could enable tracking on your computer and teach the elves to dance,” said Dave Holmes of Google, “and they would mimic your movement.” But just before launch…they found a glitch. “If the tracker lost you for a second…the elves' heads and arms would go flying off!”

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