Smartphones will soon be in the hands of North Korean residents, as the nation announced it is mass producing the "Arirang" devices, prompting skepticism from many in the tech industry who say the phones are probably being made in China.
North Korea's media last week showed leader Kim Jong Un inspecting "Arirang" smartphones at a Pyongyang factory. The Korean Central News Agency's Aug. 10 report said the factory began manufacturing smartphones "a few days ago" and they were already in high demand, according to The Associated Press.
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North Korea's Arirang smartphone
comes as the nationis promoting the development of science and technology as a means of improving its moribund economy, according to the AP
. North Korea says it developed a tablet computer last year. The country has a mobile phone network and an Intranet but they are walled off from the outside world.
Workers in photos released by the state news agency are inspecting and testing finished smartphones but no manufacturing is shown, said tech expert Martyn Williams on the northkoreatech.org blog.
"Despite KCNA's reporting that the handsets are made at the factory, they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer," said Williams, who writes for PC World and other publications.
South Korean computer experts say North Korea is strong enough in software technology to have launched cyberattacks that disrupted banking and government websites in South Korea but lacks hardware capabilities.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war. Since then, the South has prospered and produced giant corporations, such as Samsung Electronics Co., which is the world's biggest maker of smartphones, computer chips and displays. The North's economy has languished under socialist central planning though the capital Pyongyang is an oasis of relative affluence.
North Korea said the Arirang smartphone features "Korean style" style apps and can be used for "communications and learning." The smartphone sports a high-resolution camera and a touch screen.
Kim Mun-gu, a manager at a South Korean mobile phone company, said the Arirang smartphone appears to be using the Android operating system.
Kim, who became leader after his father Kim Jong Il's death in late 2011, said making phones based on home-grown technology "can instill national pride and self-respect into the Korean people," according to KCNA.
Kim Mun-gu said the photos aren't convincing as proof North Korea is manufacturing the phones.
"It looks too clean for a factory. If it's a factory, there should be components. There seemed to be machines but I can't tell whether they are operating or not," he said.
The "May 11 Factory" where North Korea says it is producing smartphones has been promoted as the country's hub for research, development and production of high-tech electronics.
Kim's visited the factory in July 2011, reportedly to see what state media called an automated production system for LCD televisions. The announcement was doubted abroad.
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