Friday, December 14, 2012

'NORAD Tracks Santa' swaps Google Maps for Bing, risks losing Santa on Christmas Eve

This year, tracking Santa Claus on his trek around the world will be less Google-centric. NORAD has switched from using Google Maps to follow St. Nick, and will instead be using Bing Maps.

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A look at the NORAD Tracks Santa site shows that Microsoft might have paid a pretty penny to get Bing Maps into the mix, instead of Google Maps.

Microsoft is listed as the new lead partner (and corporate sponsor) for the site, with Bing Maps front and center, and Google nowhere to be found. You got it: Microsoft paid more money than Google wanted to for the honor of "hosting" the Santa Tracker.

If a Santa fan wants to utilize the 3D experience that Google Earth provided, NORAD has an answer with a separate and new partner: Cesium. Instructions for preparing your browser for Santa tracking with Cesium are here), but simply put, Cecium's 3D experience requires a web browser that supports WebGL, such as Chrome or Firefox.

Internet Explorer does not support WebGL, but you can install a plug-in -- and Cesium will recommend it -- if you try loading the Cesium viewer in IE.

Last year, NORAD didn’t have mobile apps, but instead had people simply search for “Santa” using Google Maps on their devices. This year, NORAD Track Santa has mobile apps for Windows Phone, Google Play and iOS. As you can see above, Windows Phone is listed first among the mobile apps, despite the fact that of the three -- Android, iOS, and Windows Phone -- it trails the other two badly.

There is also a Windows 8 app, though there is no Mac app.

Because of the ubiquity of YouTube, though, NORAD is forced to push its YouTube channel as part of the experience.

NORAD's official statement on the matter seems to belie any corporate tomfoolery. It says:
Google supported NTS [NORAD Tracks Santa] from 2007-2011 and helped increase NTS program awareness across the globe; NORAD is grateful for the partnership and the resulting success.

This year, NTS and Google mutually agreed to go in new directions, and we are excited to welcome a number of new contributors, to include Microsoft, Windows Azure, Bing, and iLink-systems, among others, to help us in our mission of tracking Santa. The ability to work with a diverse team of contributors is fundamental to the NTS mission, and we appreciate all of the continued support of all contributors.
The now-cherished NORAD Tracks Santa tradition began in 1955, when a typo in a Sears Roebuck ad invited children to speak to Santa on the phone, only to see the calls routed to NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Aerospace Defense Command.

The on-duty officers played along, and it's become an annual event, done with the help of technology giant Google from 2007 - 2011. We'll see how well Microsoft's tracking works; hopefully it won't end up giving users and kids a lump of coal.  At the very least, we are happy they did not try to use Apple Maps (admittedly, Apple Maps exists only on iOS, but still ...).

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