Google Santa Tracker Battles NORAD In A Weird Show Of Holiday Spirit

With technology growing more sophisticated by the day, it was only a matter of time until Google and the Pentagon began battling it out for the title of Better Tracker Of Santa Claus. No, really: this is actually happening, and the two megagiants — one a world-renowned corporation, one the military branch of the American government — are working hard to get their personalized Santa Trackers on your browser. Complete with interactive Santa villages, iPad and iPhone apps, kids' games and brain teasers, the two Santa Tracker websites are locked in a much-hyped race to best bring the magic of the holiday season to the Internet. Welcome to the 21st century, Santa.

Santa Tracking is pretty much what it sounds like: an interactive tracker, which appears as a moving figure on a map, follows Santa Claus as Christmas draws closer. Santa, who according to Google's animation has spent much of the year relaxing on a beach, is hard at work in the North Pole. When Christmas comes, the two trackers will follow him on his round-the-world overnight trip.

But before all that, you can open up the sites and play around in Santa's village, with the elves and the reindeer games and jingly holiday music. We're not sure if there was a gap in the market or just a gap in the human consciousness for this, er, product, but both Google and the Pentagon — specifically, its NORAD airspace division — have worked pretty hard to make this happen.

First, let's visit the NORAD North Pole. NORAD, by the way, is short for North American Aerospace Defense Command, whose long tradition of "Santa Tracking" has been helped out by Microsoft software in recent years. (Obviously, after Microsoft got on board, Google had to jump into the race.)

All very nice, but let's get serious. Here's the NORAD HQ in the North Pole, which explains why NORAD built a Santa Tracker: "We’re the only organization that has the technology, the qualifications, and the people to do it. And, we love it! NORAD is honored to be Santa’s official tracker!"

The site, which has a military feel to it and a healthy dose of NORAD info to boot, has tradition on its side. NORAD has been "tracking Santa" all the way back to 1955 — back then, they did so with cutesy radio ads, telephone hotlines, and newspaper columns — and has developed its Santa Tracking Internet presence to match the growth of the World Wide Web. It now has apps for Android and Apple, and last year, the site saw more than 22 million visitors.

The map data NORAD uses is from Bing's map service, whereas Google's tracker uses — surprise! – Google Maps.

But it's not all fun and games: Santa is flanked by fighter jets in the welcome animation for NORAD, which has raised concerns that the site links military weapons with the holiday season in a way that maybe (just maybe!) isn't appropriate.

Now, NORAD faces a rival: When it comes to the Internet, Google does not like to be outdone. So, in an effort to oust a half-century of Santa-tracking tradition, Google launched its own version of the Santa Tracker Wednesday.

This one has an Android feel to it, all clean lines and block colors, and boasts a host of features — games; animations; teasers — that become unlocked with each passing day on the virtual advent calendar. (See the little Google Maps-esque pins?)

Google has also rolled out a ton of add-ons, including a Chrome extension, an Android app, and a Google Glass app. NORAD has maintained a dignified silence on this very un-festive act of stealing the holiday spirit, stating that they're not in "competition with any other Santa tracking sites."

Whichever one you choose this year, it's probably a good idea to spend a while on each. Because Christmas, and also — do you want to get on the bad side of either Google or the Pentagon?