SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea’s announcement that it is mass producing a home-grown smartphone has been met with skepticism in the tech industry in South Korea and abroad.
The North’s state media last week showed leader Kim Jong Un inspecting “Arirang” phones 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.
North Korea has promoted the development of science and technology as a means of improving its moribund economy. It says it developed a tablet computer last year and has its own Red Star operating system.
But access to the global Internet is severely restricted and mobile phones used on the state-authorized network cannot make overseas calls.
Factory workers in photos released by the state news agency are inspecting and testing finished phones, but no manufacturing is shown, tech expert Martyn Williams said 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.
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 memory chips and displays. The North’s economy has languished under socialist central planning, though the capital Pyongyang is an oasis of relative affluence.