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How Smart Is A North Korean Smartphone?

What do you think of when you hear or read the words “North Korea”? Insane dictators? The Korean War? Endless reruns of M*A*S*H? A terrible remake of “Red Dawn”?

How about when you hear or read the words “North Korean smart phone”?

If you couldn’t read that phrase without either snorting in derision or bursting out in hysterical laughter, then congratulations; you’re most likely sane.* Although, if you think of it, North Korean Smart Phones would make an awesome band name.

But seriously, yes, as if the world doesn’t already have a zillion different smart phones that are more powerful than 1,000 Apollo 11-era computers, here comes North Korea, tossing its crazy hat into the ring, ready to take the mobile technology world by storm with the Arirang, an ostensibly domestically manufactured smart phone.

Presenting The Glorious People’s Socialist Smart Phone

The features of the Arirang don’t so much scream “versatility” as they do “What the…”, include extremely restricted access to the global Internet, the inability to make overseas calls, and access to only government-sanctioned websites within North Korea’s Intranet. But at least it has a touch screen and high-res camera. The Arirang, which appears to be using the Android operating system, reportedly uses “Korean style” apps, and can be used as a tool for “communication and learning”.

The Arirang lets North Koreans call any person in the world, provided the person lives in North Korea.

And naturally, since North Korea never seems to miss a chance to take anything and turn it into a propaganda tool, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said recently that making the smart phones domestically “..can instill national pride and self-respect into the Korean people”. Of course, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official news agency, reports that there is already high demand for the phone.

Not So Fast …

The problem is, there is widespread skepticism that the phones are actually being produced in North Korea itself. Photographs of the factory where the phones are allegedly manufactured seem “too clean” to some communications experts, offering no proof that the phones are made at the May 11 Factory, where North Korean officials say the phones are made. Pictures featuring the Arirang show workers inspecting and testing the phones, but no actual manufacturing.

It’s not that North Korea doesn’t have the technological capability to design a smart phone; after all, they have sufficient know-how to make long-range missiles, test nuclear warheads, and the means to launch cyber-attacks on South Korean banking websites. It’s more a case of their inability to secure components needed to manufacture the phones in any significant numbers. In other words, while they can swing the software, it’s the hardware that gives the North Koreans problems. There is speculation that the handsets are in fact manufactured in China. Although that doesn’t sound like something that anyone would use to boost their online reputation.

In Summary …

From what the experts say and what is known about the state of telecommunications and Internet access in North Korea, what all of this means at the end of the day is that the North Koreans have rolled out a smart phone that’s supposedly domestically produced and represents national pride and self-respect, granting access to a communications network heavily monitored by the State, and provides no Internet access outside of North Korea itself, and with no groundbreaking new technology to speak of. Oh, and it’s probably manufactured in China.

Sounds like a winner. This should be a real hot item on Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday.

John Terra has been writing freelance since 1985, and reminds people that the Korean War never officially ended.

*Not to be used as an actual sanity test. Your actual results may vary.

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Written By

Born in the Boston area in 1959, I started writing in 1985. I live in Nashua NH with my wife and three cats. We have four kids in our blended family. I am an utter geek who's into gaming, horror, SF/fantasy, the Red Sox, trains, running, history, and a bunch of other things.



  1. Pramod

    September 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    All that i can say about this post is that North Korea is a developing country which will have its technologies (which includes smartphones) improved as the time passes by. Anyways, thanks for sharing the information and making us aware of Arirang.


  2. Stephan

    September 19, 2013 at 5:28 am

    North Korea is still a myth for all of us.
    I think you provided a very interesting information. They produce their own phones and just allow to access internet in their territory . That’s crazy country, I should aware about Ariang from now.
    Thanks for your informative article.


  3. Gautam

    September 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I have always thought of Korean phones as the worst phones ever and i am still in confusion.Don’t know what the hell they make and they want from it.

  4. Rohit Dubey

    October 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Korea is one of the best countries in making mobile phone and they created a milestone in the world of phones.
    I love Korean Phones.

  5. John Terra

    October 3, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Actually no….no they haven\’t made a milestone in mobile phones. They haven\’t done anything that hasn\’t been already done before, and years before, no less. But if you like them then hey all power to you. Whatever works! 🙂

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