Pictures obtained by NK News and video from the Korean Central Television (KCTV) show new tech products on display at the 18th Pyongyang Spring International trade fair, including new laptops, tablets, hybrids and possible copies of iMac computers.
The fair started on May 11 and ran for three days. According to the DPRK’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), it was attended by numerous countries in Asia and Europe.
Also at the fair, however, were some of North Korea’s technology companies, apparently with a host of new products. The DPRK showcased supposedly domestically produced gadgets, from LED monitors to sleek-looking laptops.
While North Korea is known to import some tablets from China, at least three different North Korean models were visible at the trade fair.
Yonhap News Agency spotted the possible successor to the 2012 ‘Samjiyon’ tablet, the “Myohyang”. According to the South Korean media outlet, the updated tablet had a higher resolution screen and TV connectivity.
“It is stylish and simple to use, and watching TV is possible. The battery capacity is large and the touch screen works well,” the tablet’s salesman said in comments carried by Yonhap.
Also on display was what appeared to be a more entry-level offering, called the “Big Sea” (Daeyang).
The tablet looks to offer little improvement over the three-year-old Samjiyon, with only a marginally faster processor and lower screen resolution.
“There isn’t much of a reason for quick increase in the technology. There is little competition – something that has driven better specs in other countries – and no internet services demanding better and faster processors,” Martyn Williams, author of the North Korea Tech blog told NK News.
The model pictured also appears to have front- and back-facing cameras and, like the Samjiyon, uses Google’s Android operating system.
Photos obtained by NK News possibly show different models of the “Big Sea” tablet, with varying screen sizes.
The tablets can also be mounted within a carry case and use a keyboard, giving them laptop-like functionality.
A previous review of the Samjiyon by Martyn Williams at North Korea Tech noted the 2012 North Korean tablet came with in-house and foreign-made apps and games.
The newer Big Sea tablets appear to be no exception, though also come preloaded with a French language dictionary, in addition to English and Chinese.
Curiously, one of the words pictured in the French language dictionary, tolédan, does not seem to exist in other French dictionaries.
It is unclear from the photos if the other apps were developed in North Korea or abroad, but Big Sea owners will be able to play soccer, tower defense and paper throwing games. A “Chosun Encyclopaedia” similar to the one found in the Samjiyon is also visible.
A video from North Korea’s television news outlet KCTV released in May also showed some other North Korean tech products at Pyongyang’s trade fair.
The brief segment highlighted a company whose name translates as “Blue Sky,” which has manufactured a hybrid tablet that clips onto a keyboard, turning the device into a fully functioning laptop.
“This device combined the merits of a tablet computer and a notebook computer. Many users were pleased with this new technology,” the salesman says in the KCTV video.
The camera also pans across several units bearing a strong resemblance to an iMac desktop computer.
The similarities between the Blue Sky computer and iMac’s distinctive style appear to extend even to the peripherals, with the mouse and keyboard bearing Apple’s signature sleek look.
Although the salesman does not mention the computers and their specifications are not given, a later shot of one of Blue Sky’s posters sheds some light on the device.
Similar to the iMac, the computer is advertised as an all-in-one unit. Though the processor speed is not clear, the Blue Sky unit has the “latest fourth-generation processor” with a “stylish and refined look.”
Another line on the poster indicates the unit’s low power consumption. This would most likely be a strong selling point in North Korea, where energy infrastructure is lacking and blackouts are frequent.
The presence of a Mac-style computer has some precedent, according to Kim Jong-sun, a researcher at the Science and Technology Policy Institute.
“It is the first time I’ve seen this. But it is not surprising that North Korea has similar products to Mac, as their Red Star 3.0 (operating system) was based on Mac’s interface.”
It is currently unclear if the tablets are manufactured in North Korea, but experts strongly suspect DPRK companies are only involved later in the production line and to varying degrees.
“It is not that meaningful to evaluate North Korean products. They are just assembling pieces imported from China or other countries,” Kim told NK News.
“(I’m) almost 100 percent certain that these are not being made in the DPRK. It’s probably just software localization,” Williams added.
According to Chinese trade figures, exports of desktops to the DPRK have also dropped dramatically, with North Koreans seemingly attracted by the mobile computing benefits of a laptop.
Tablet imports, however, remain modest in comparison to laptops and cellphones, which have grown rapidly in recent years.
So far this year North Korea has imported less than 5,000 tablets, with just 1,200 in April. In contrast, China exported more than 23,000 laptops to the DRPK last month.
“I’ve only seen a few people with them, they’re quite pricy and most people don’t see significant reason to buy them when their phone already has similar capability,” Troy Collings, owner of Young Pioneer Tours, told NK News.
Nonetheless, the diversity of products on show could be a positive indicator for current trends in North Korea.
“It is becoming competitive between organizations, and the number of organizations which produce and sell various models are increasing. It indicates that demand is growing in North Korea,” Kim said.
Additional reporting by HaYoung Choi
Main photo: Anonymous source