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Forget The Nexus 7, Meet The Samjiyon, North Korea's Tablet

Google's Nexus 7
Google's Nexus 7
The tech world was abuzz on June 27 with the unveiling of Google's tablet, the Nexus 7. But there could be another kid on the scrappy tablet-market block: the Samjiyon.

Bloomberg picked up the story, based on a report in the South Korean newspaper "Dong-a Ilbo" that was sourced to unidentified defectors.

The Marmot's Hole blog has more details:
[S]ources familiar with North Korea and defectors tell the Dong-A Ilbo that North Korea has recently begun distribution of an independently branded tablet PC, the Samjiyon. It can’t access the Internet, unfortunately, but it does have an encyclopedia, games, eBooks and a map service. We don’t know if it's made in North Korea from imported parts or made in China with the software installed in the North.

There have been some tablet rumblings before in North Korea. In May, Martyn Williams at North Korea Tech wrote about a tablet computer that was demoed at the Pyongyang International Trade Fair.

The tablet was reportedly produced by the Korea Computer Center (KCC), which is a state-run IT research center, and there's some pictures of the display in the posts.

According to an interview with a representative of the KCC, "the tablet was invented by the Korea Computer Center to enable people to study revolutionary ideas, to use science and technology, to carry out their business and to enjoy movies."

Where it was produced, however, is a mystery.
No details were provided about the operating system or technical specifications of the device. While Park [KCC representative] claimed it was developed by the Korea Computer Center, state media has made similar claims recently for laptop computers that were actually developed and manufactured by Chinese companies. The machines were supplied to North Korea for local customization.

Williams links to a previous post looking at the origins of a North Korean netbook, which appears to be a generic and low-cost Chinese-made model, tricked out, no doubt, with North Korean software and restrictions.

In recent years, North Korea has made tentative steps in embracing new technologies and the Internet (although that narrative of progress is mostly just for outside consumption). The country has launched social-media accounts and has revamped its outward-facing website in English of the country's official news service.

However, even if the tablet did connect to the Internet, it would only get the "Kwangmyong," North Korea's heavily filtered national intranet.

That the Samjiyon wouldn't be Internet-connected and without a camera would come as no surprise. "Wired" reported in April 2011 about the smuggling of smartphones across the border from China. According to "Wired," "the unlicensed mobile phones have allowed families in the North to clandestinely connect with foreign intelligence services in South Korea and the United States and spread news through the rumor mill."

In fact, a Japanese organization, AsiaPress, has been working clandestinely with North Koreans to get uncensored images, captured with smartphones, out of the country.