Kim Jong-un the Apple maniac

In contrast to Kim Jong-Un’s hostile remarks towards the West and South Korea, it has been found out that he uses their electronics. North Korea claims that those were made by North Korean company (Image: LittlePigPower, Courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc.)

Like many people, I was captivated by Steve Jobs when he famously said during his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

I was also captivated by his fashion sense. His iconic style emphasized simplicity and practicality, featuring Miyake turtlenecks, Levi’s 501 jeans, and New Balance 992 sneakers. 

Thus attracted, I started buying Apple products and became one of South Korea’s “App-deungyi.” These are consumers who blindly praise everything Apple does. The word combines the company’s name with “gob-deungyi,” which means camel cricket or spider cricket.

There’s also a notable App-deungyi in North Korea. 

According to various broadcasts and videos, Kim Jong-un is an Apple fan. He uses an iMac, a MacBook, an iPad, and an iPhone. In other words, while he’s officially anti-American, he is in fact an Apple maniac. 

According to reports, as rumors spread that he uses an iPhone, the device has gained popularity as “The Marshal’s Phone.”

He is known to import the latest iPhone models as soon as they are released, not only for himself but also as gifts for deputy director-level officials and above in powerful institutions.

Apple says it does not sell its products to North Korea. In this context, Bloomberg revealed that thousands of Apple products have been illegally imported into North Korea over the past several years.

But there is a new twist to this story. Kim may be switching to Samsung. 

Known as an early adopter, he was spotted carrying a foldable smartphone at last year’s Hwasong-18 test launch. 

It was difficult to confirm the exact country of origin as the phone was in a case. However, experts speculated that it was most likely Samsung Electronics’ latest model, which held over 70% market share globally last year. 

Some suggested that it might be a foldable phone from the Chinese manufacturer OPPO, but we’re going with the Samsung claim.

“In recent years, the penetration rate of mobile phones in North Korea has been increasing,” said one expert in Seoul. “It seems there is an intention to create a different digital environment by trying out foldable phones and possibly producing and distributing them locally.”

Indeed, a promotional video released by North Korea on the propaganda site Naenara in June featured the latest North Korean smartphones, including several foldable products. These are developed and produced by the Madusan Mobile Phone Development and Production Center under the Madusan Economic Union. 

The foldable Madusan smartphone features an octagonal-shaped camera on the back. Another model has four cameras in a circular design. 

However, it is unclear if these foldable phones are actually being produced and developed within North Korea. NK Economic News pointed out that, given North Korea’s smartphone production history, it is likely that if they are producing foldable phones, the displays would be Chinese. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2397 bans the export and import of electronic devices to and from North Korea. But Pyongyang reportedly bypasses these restrictions and clandestinely imports electronic products and related components. These come mainly from China, with payments made in cash or through proxy dollar bank accounts.

Various types of smartphones are released in North Korea. They include Pyongyang Touch, Arirang, Jindallae, Phurun Hanul, and Samtaesong. An International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) check of a Samtaesong phone revealed it is a Chinese product

This leads to the question of why people in North Korea would need a mobile phone when they can’t access the internet.

The use of mobile phones is not widespread, but they are nevertheless valued by those who can get them.

“Having a mobile phone allows you to watch South Korean dramas,” said one source. “If someone outside informs you that inspection teams are coming, you can escape or stop watching.”

Phones also help stabilize prices in the marketplace. “People can call around and find out what people are charging,” he said. “This discourages sellers from charging exorbitant prices to avoid losing credibility.” 

There is another interpretation of this increased penetration which is that it is aimed at making it easier to control the population. 

Whatever the explanation, perhaps the day will come when North Koreans can through their phones find inspiration in Steve Jobs’ message, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Lee Jia

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