While the hottest gadget across much of the world is undoubtedly the iPhone 6, in North Korea the only smartphone you can get legally is the government-approved “Pyongyang Touch.”
The North Korean government first released the “Arirang” smartphone in 2013, which appeared to run a modified version of Google’s Android operating system. The updated Pyongyang Touch now comes in a range of colours and is reminiscent of the iPhone 3.
Internet access is banned in the country, which instead uses a government-controlled intranet. North Korea’s 3G network only came online in 2013. While iPhones are also blocked under international sanctions, it’s highly doubtful the government would allow them in any case.
Touring one of the Arirang “manufacturing plants” last year, leader Kim Jong Un apparently praised workers for “creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm.”
“How nice to see hand phones being successfully produced with indigenous technology,” a government service reported him as saying.
As is common for North Korean leaders, Kim Jong Un imparted his wisdom and advice. According to the BBC, he advised factory workers to “select and produce shapes and colours that users like.”
Kim Jong Un reportedly said the “hand phone” would be convenient for users because of its touch screen and the “high pixels” of its camera function.
Despite Kim Jong Un’s reported visit to an iPhone factory, one Japanese blog reported the phone is likely a Chinese imported “Uniscope” phone.
It’s also unclear whether devices have made it into the hands of every-day North Koreans, or just elites.
In any case, the Arirang and Pyongyang Touch are luxuries in the country. The UN reports that North Korea keeps many citizens in horrific forced labour camps and is one of the world’s worst human rights offenders.