Santa Claus is comin’ to town, but you won’t be able to find him on your Google Maps. (Nope, not even the version that just came to iPhones.)
That’s because NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — has decided to switch from Google Maps, which it has used since 2007, to Microsoft’s Bing maps for its annual NORAD Tracks Santa project.
“NORAD and Google have decided to go their separate ways and pursue other opportunities,” said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the project. “It was a mutually agreed upon decision that transpired earlier this year.”
This is the first time NORAD is inserting Bing maps into the interactive experience, and Kucharek said the transition has been smooth. With three different Smartphone apps to track Santa this Christmas, families can spot and pinpoint Santa through Bing maps available on the iPhone, and Android and Windows Phone 8 smartphones.
Since Dec. 12, NORAD’s Tracks Santa app has been downloaded nearly 922,000 times through Apple’s iTunes; almost 558,000 times for Android users and approximately 2,500 times for Windows Phone 8 users.
Kucharek said NORAD relies on technology to change with the times and to reach a broader audience through its website, which includes families around the world. Twenty-nine percent of the site’s visitors are from the UK, 7 percent from Canada and 5 percent from Japan.
“I don’t know that we thought we could do better than what we were doing in 2004,” said Kucharek. “Technology has exponentially increased our outreach.”
That technology also includes social media. Yes, even Santa Claus tweets.
NORAD’s Tracks Santa has a Twitter following of close to 95,000, a Facebook page with well over a million likes and over 4,000 Google+ subscribers. And don’t forget their YouTube video with nearly 490,000 views as well.
NORAD began tracking Santa from Peterson Air Force Base in 1955 when a small child called the base in hopes of speaking with Santa Claus.
The base phone number was misprinted in a Sears newspaper ad. Children placing calls to Santa were actually sent to Peterson Air Force Base.
“The number went straight to Col. Harry Shoup and he just played along,” said Kurcharek.
His daughter, Terri, recalls when her father worked at NORAD and helped track Santa in the early days before technology was center of the project.
“He wouldn’t understand it but he’d be thrilled.”
At that time, NORAD had no sponsors or high-speed technology to help track Santa. Over the years, the project has grown in scope and size from 10 partners in 2004 to over 50 this year.
“There’s a lot of generations now who get in front of the computer with grandma and grandpa and follow Santa,” said Kucharek. “We’re sort of moving with the times and the technology and expanding the program.”