Why NORAD Will Use Bing, Not Google Maps, To Track Santa

Santa-on-sleigh-BMicrosoft got a big nod from Santa this holiday season. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has switched from Google Maps, which it began using in 2007, to Microsoft's Bing Maps for its annual NORAD Track Santa project. Cesium will also help to show Santa's route.

NORAD began tracking Santa in 1955. This year there are three smartphone apps to help kids follow his journey -- iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 8, which can search, spot and pinpoint Santa using Bing maps. The technology also uses social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

There's no technical reason for the switch, according to a NORAD spokesperson. "It was a mutual agreement between NORAD and Google," he said.

Mike Blumenthal, founder of the blog Understanding Google Places and Local Search, said that considering how extensive Google StreetView travels have become and that they now capture street number via the StreetView images, he believes Google's geo-coding of addresses might be slightly more accurate than Bing's.

"Given that significantly more businesses have claimed their listings and possibly repositioned their pins and the the MapMaker community is actively double-checking the geo-coding, Google has significantly more resources devoted to a task that would seem to be very critical for Santa's success," he said.

Andrew Shotland, founder of Local SEO Guide, imagines the conversation went something like this: "Hello, NORAD Santa Tracker. Buddy speaking."

"Hi Buddy, this is Steve Ballmer from Microsoft. How much will it cost to use Bing Maps on the Santa Tracker this Christmas?"

"Um, how much do you got?" Buddy said.

"Done," Ballmer said, according to Shotland's satire. "And hey, because I like you Buddy, I'll throw in a few Surfaces for you and your pals."

NORAD's Track Santa app has been downloaded more than 922,000 times since Dec. 12 -- nearly 558,000 times for Android users; and 2,500 times for Windows Phone 8.

The move doesn't seem to have hurt Google. A post on Jeff Huber's Google+ page explains. The Google SR VP of commerce said there have been more than 10 million downloads of the new Google Maps for Apple iOS since it came out last week.

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