North Korea’s “supreme leader”, Kim Jong-un, recently toured a
carefully-staged forgery Pyongyang factory, where workers are busy “manufacturing” the DPRK’s first “indigenous” smartphone, the “Arirang.” And if you had the woe-begotten idea that this Android device is a cheap Chinese knock-off with the DPRK label slapped on it, think again — the official North Korean news agency assures us that the Arirang includes a camera function with “high pixels.” I’m convinced....
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea isn’t exactly known for its budding consumer electronics industry (though it’s well-acquainted with famine, torture, prison camps, and other pleasant staples of a modern Stalinist regime). And the dictatorship has a special fondness for Photoshop and elaborate hoaxes.
Then again, the DPRK is no stranger to lavish expenditures while its people starve and citizens earn the equivalent of $15/month. So a domestic smartphone program wouldn’t be entirely uncharacteristic for the most undemocratic nation on earth.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) news release described Kim Jong-un’s visit as follows, which I can only imagine is a mix of translation chicanery and totalitarian-speak:
“He learned in detail about the performance, quality and packing of “Arirang” hand phone being made at this factory.
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.
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.
How nice to see hand phones being successfully produced with indigenous technology, he said, adding it is of educational significance in making people love Korean things.”
And so on...
There’s just one problem — as Gizmodo points out, none of the news releases bother showing any actual “manufacturing.” The workers at the May 11 factory appear to be inspecting finished products, presumably imported from China. So while Arirang is certainly real (and running what appears to be an Android OS), the “indigenous” portion is as genuine as this photo of Kim Jong-un riding a unicorn:
Given that North Korea has no real connection to the World Wide Web, it’s unclear what purpose Arirang serves (other than crude propaganda). According to some estimates, no more than a few thousand North Koreans — mainly government — have access to the ‘net, and the country achieved its first known direct connection to the Internet in 2010. The common people subsist on the country’s free walled-garden national intranet system, Kwangmyong.
This should go without saying – a starving people can’t afford a gee-whiz smartphone, no matter who manufactures it.