North Korea’s Android-based Samjiyon tablet is no longer to be sold to foreigners visiting North Korea, multiple sources in the country have told NK News.
Three separate sources, who requested anonymity due to sensitivities in speaking to media, said sales of Samjiyon tablet devices have been restricted to local citizens only, with one source adding the decision to stop foreign sales was because of tablets appearing for resale outside North Korea at significantly marked up prices.
“The sale of the tablet is restricted for foreigners because Chinese (tourists) were buying them and taking them back to China to sell with a 200% or more markup,” one source who regularly visits the DPRK told NK News.
“The tablet is currently €175 (U.S. $237) – which is super cheap. So people took advantage of this and the Koreans found out,” the source added.
The Samjiyon typically sells within North Korea at between $200 to $250, but its resale price outside of the country often incorporates a significant mark-up: in November 2013 a Samjiyon on eBay sold for $540, with two more sold by the same eBay user later that month at around $425 each.
“The thing about it is they spent so much time trying to create an image of themselves for external consumption and here is something that they really ought to legitimately be proud of,” said Dr. Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese history based at the University of Leeds.
“This is meant to represent Kim Jong Un’s Korea, so it’s flashy, it’s high-tech, there is data and there is a lot of things that we might not expect like foreign dictionaries. The fact that they don’t want to export that indicates that it’s perhaps the information exchange that they are not comfortable with,” Cathcart added.
One source with knowledge of the restriction told NK News the decision may have been related to fears about foreign access of North Korean materials.
“Yes, it’s true they are not for sale any more. We were told the reason is because it contains content that is unsuitable for foreigners,” the source said.
Martyn Williams, who has covered the Samjiyon tablet in close detail at his North Korea Tech website, speculated that Pyongyang may be restricting the sale of Samjiyon tablets due to fears the technology could be reverse engineered or that software faults could be identified.
“The software is pretty run of the mill, but again perhaps they don’t want people examining the tablets and figuring out ways to circumvent the controls that might be inside. Or to design viruses that could exploit the particular apps,” Williams said.
“But it’s just as likely to be a much more mundane explanation, such as someone somewhere, perhaps not even high-up in command, just decided they’re not for sale to foreigners,” Williams added.
The Samjiyon was developed by the Korea Computer Center (KCC), North Korea’s main IT Research and Development Center, and was unveiled at the 8th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair in September 2012.
While it is likely that the KCC developed software for the Samjiyon, last August Williams suggested at NK Tech that the manufacturing of the device was likely conducted overseas.
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