If techies think Microsoft's new Surface tablet is just an iPad knock off, wait until they see North Korea's. Believe it or not, the repressive Hermit Kingdom released a new tablet computer this week called "Arirang" after a famous Korean folk hymn. But while North Korean state television anchors are trumpeting it as a next-generation device developed and produced by the government's own Pyongyang Information Technology Bureau, the tablet appears to be a generic Chinese iPad clone.
The embarrassing revelation comes from NK News' Tad Farrell who compared a series of images of the "Arirang" device with a low-cost Chinese tablet built in Shenzhen. The images appeared on state television in reports that championed the device as “contributing to the country’s science technology distribution, culture, and education projects.” Above are screenshots from the broadcast, which showed locals testing out the new-fangled device.
Unfortunately, a side-by-side comparison of the Arirang and the Shenzhen-produced clone show remarkably similar design characteristics, including identical placement of the home button and control area. As Farrell reports, the likely result is that Pyongyang entered into a fairly typical contract with the Shenzhen manufacturer. "[With] bulk customers custom device branding, packaging and even core software installs, Chinese manufactures offer a cost-effective solution for anyone seeking to release their own branded tablet device," writes Farrell. Woops!
OK, so the country's vaunted industrial design prowess may be over-stated, but maybe the country deserves props for its operating system? Apparently not. According to the North Korea Tech blog, North Korean tablets showing up at Pyongyang trade shows have been running on Google's open source Android operating system, which is likely what the Arirang is running on. One positive thing we can say about the tablet? It's very affordable! According to Farrell, the Arirang's Chinese equivalent sells for between $40 and $120 a tablet. Take that, Apple.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.