According to North Korean State media, Supreme Commander King Jong-Un has expressed approval of a Pyongyang factory that is producing the country’s first smartphone – or “hand phone” as the device is referred to in the roughly-translated news release.
According to Pyongyang’s mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “He 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.”
The DPRK’s first smartphone is called the AS1201 Arirang, named after a popular folk song that is also referred to as Korea’s unofficial national anthem. The phrase also refers to the mass games currently underway in the North.
“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,” said KCNA.
According to photos of the handset, it is powered by a specially-modified version of Google’s Android operating system – with security considered paramount.
“[Kim] praised [factory staff] for developing an application program in Korean style which provides the best convenience to the users while strictly guaranteeing security,” the KCNA stated.
No specs or features were included in the KCNA release, but it claimed that the new handset’s “camera function has high pixels.” It has a rectangular shape and thick letterboxing around the screen. It also appears thick and heavy compared to current, even last-generation, smartphones.
Citing North Korea’s “woefully underdeveloped” technology sector – coupled with the fact that KCNA’s Kim-centric photos lacked any assembly-line shots – many tech industry commentators are doubting claims that the phone is actually manufactured in North Korea.
“One likelihood with this North Korean Arirang phone is that all the parts are actually made in China, and final assembly is done in North Korea. Or, possibly, the whole smartphone is made in China, and only the final boxing is done in the rather sparse plant that Kim Jong-un toured,” wrote Steven Millward, Tech in Asia’s China editor.
Thanks to a partnership with Egyptian firm Orascom, North Korea has about 2 million mobile phone users. However, only domestic calls can be placed. In a country that ranks at the bottom for Internet freedom, many are left scratching their heads at the real-world practicality of a DPRK smartphone.