AP Technology Writer
---- — SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — 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. 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 phones 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 phone features “Korean style” style apps and can be used for “communications and learning.” It 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.
He said the photos aren’t convincing as proof the North 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 previous visit to the factory was in July 2011 to see what state media called an automated production system for LCD televisions — an announcement also doubted abroad.
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.