North Korea’s Smartphone, ‘Arirang,’ Questioned By Experts, May Be Made In China

North Korea said it is manufacturing a smartphone, the “Arirang,” and revealed the phone in a series of photos on Aug. 11. The few details about the phone, or its capabilities, have left many wondering if there is even a smartphone being manufactured in North Korea or being imported from China.

The Airang North Korea's announcement of a smartphone, the Airang, has been met with plenty of skepticism.  Reuters/Korea Central News Agency

The revelation of the Arirang came during an Aug. 10 report by the Korean Central News Agency, titled “Kim Jong Un Visits May 11 Factory.” The article discusses Kim Jong Un’s visit to the factory where the smartphone is being manufactured. The Arirang features “Korean style” apps that provide convenience as well as security and a high-resolution camera. According to KCNA, the phone is being manufactured in North Korea, but many are questioning those claims.

As reported by the Associated Press, the Arirang announcement does not reveal a lot about the phone, and the photos accompanying the report have been met with skepticism by tech experts. North Korea’s communications and Internet services are limited and access is controlled by the state. Citing South Korea's Unification Ministry, AP reports the North’s Intranet has its own browsers that only provide access to government-approved websites while mobile phones cannot make overseas calls.

Martyn Williams’ article, published on North Korea Tech, notes the factory and the assembly line do not resemble a typical electronics factory. In the article, Williams states, “Despite KCNA’s reporting that the handsets are made at the factory, they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the May 11 Factory where they are inspected before going on sale.” Williams had previously written about Kim Jong Un’s last visit to the May 11 factory to view the manufacture of a flat-screen television, raising the same concerns.

Kang Ho Jye, from the Ewha Institute of Unification Studies, said to AP the skepticism over the Arirang is due to North Korea not having the capability to make the phone. Jye says North Korea is technologically capable of making a smartphone but may not have the components to manufacture the Airang. “If people believe it is impossible because they are wondering how North Korea supplied components, then that makes sense,” said Jye to AP.

Another expert speaking to AP said the factory appears to be too clean and there are no electronics or other parts seen in the photos. The report also draws a striking parallel, noting North Korea’s announcement of its smartphone, while South Korea is home to the largest manufacturer of smartphones, Samsung Electronics Co.

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