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Skepticism as N. Korea shows home-grown smartphone

SEOUL, South Korea — 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 producing smartphones “a few days ago” and they are already in high demand.

Workers in photos released by the news agency are inspecting and testing finished products but no manufacturing process 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.

North Korea has promoted the development of science and technology as a means to improve its moribund economy. It says it developed a tablet computer last year.

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 country has mobile phones and an Intranet but they are walled off from the outside world.

Kim Mun-gu, a manager at a South Korean mobile phone company, said the Arirang smartphone appears to be running on 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.

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