For a country not famed for its technological sophistication (OK, let’s forget for a moment that it appears to have developed a nuclear warhead), it may come as a surprise to some that North Korea has been working on its own smartphone, apparently powered by Google’s Android OS.
Pictures released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) show leader Kim Jong-un touring a factory in the reclusive country where the handset, reportedly called the Arirang, is being assembled….or more likely, boxed.
As North Korea Tech’s Martyn Williams points out, none of the images show any actual manufacturing taking place.
Williams speculates that in reality, “they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the factory where they are inspected before going on sale.”
The KCNA, in its inimitable style, reported that Kim Jong-un “highly appreciated the creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm with which the officials and employees of the factory laid a solid foundation for mass-producing hand phones by building a new modern hand phone production process.”
It continued, “He noted that these hand phones will be very convenient for their users as their camera function has high pixels….Looking at the trademark ‘Arirang’ inscribed on the hand phone, he noted that mass-production of goods with DPRK trademark can instill national pride and self-respect into the Korean people.”
And finally: “How nice to see hand phones being successfully produced with indigenous technology, [Kim Jong-un] said, adding it is of educational significance in making people love Korean things.”
According to the English-language news site Daily NK, the visit marks the first time the young leader has “offered the Kim family stamp of approval to the widespread production, and by extension ownership, of cell phones.”
Little is known about the specifications of the Android device other than it incorporates a touchscreen with “high pixels”.
Of course, in a country where the leadership tightly controls the dissemination of information, one has to wonder how many of its citizens will have an opportunity to own the Arirang. Even if they do, what are the chances of it connecting to the Web? After all, of its 25 million citizens, only a select few are believed to be allowed to use the Internet.
On a visit to the country in January, Google chairman Eric Schmidt urged the secretive state to become more open and give its population freedom to access the Internet or face more hardship.
“As the world is becoming increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth,” Schmidt said at the time.
In a speech at the start of the year, Kim said he was keen to see his country develop its science and technology capabilities to help improve its weak economy, although it’s probably a bit premature to believe the Arirang could be about to take on the likes of the Galaxy S4 or iPhone. Probably best to wait for the second iteration.