Ruediger Frank on the North Korean Tablet

October 24, 2013 7:00 AM

Back in August, we posted on the new North Korean tablet, following the work of Martyn Williams at IT World and in even more detail back at his own blog. Rudi Frank has offered up a serious product review of the Samjiyon for 38North (in .pdf). The big advantage of Frank’s analysis is on the software side and how the installed content might even be a tool for research on the DPRK. The tablet that Frank purchased had no fewer than 488 preinstalled books and reference works. These included a nearly complete set of schoolbooks, the inevitable collected works of the leaders, national histories and even a few foreign classics; needless to say, it is all in Korean.

Among the highlights of Frank’s analysis:

  • He goes through the hardware, including connectivity (can receive TV signal, can’t connect to internet, not clear about intranet).
  • The tablet has 14 games, including Angry Birds; they provide insight into what the video industry in North Korea is doing, but it looks relatively innocuous.
  • Microsoft will be interested in hearing that the tablet has a fully functional MS Office package consisting of Word, Excel and Powerpoint (saving files as .doc, .xls and .ppt); try working the intellectual property angle on that one. In addition, it has a calculator, camera, web browser, clock, file manager, music player, PDF reader, sound recorder, video player,notepad, phonebook and a photo gallery. It also has a multi-language dictionary with Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Russian, as well as an encyclopedia.
  • Frank provides a great analysis of the liberal arts library, walking through each of the titles and some of their content. Not surprisingly, exploits of the leaders and country are tightly interwoven in these hagiographies and there is a large section of weighty tomes if anyone wants to brush up on juche theory. But he stumbles on a number of gems. For example:
    • “It will be instructive for DPRK specialists to read, for example, in Pyongyang announces, about the official response of North Korea to Soviet Perestroika (kaep’yŏn). The slogan “serving the people” (inminŭl wihayŏ pongmuham), which is still seen frequently in North Korean production facilities, originates from this book and reflects Kim Jong-il’s emphasis on every day needs of the people as a protection against reform demands. Those interested in the nuclear issue will benefit from reading The world of the star to understand how North Korea regards the conclusion of the 1994 US-North Korea Agreed Framework as a victory.”
    • Among the foreign classics included on the tablet is Gone with the Wind. The logic? An introduction to the political economy of American slavery.
    • The largest share of books on the tablet are textbooks, an efficient way to distribute classroom material were the tablets widely available. As Frank notes, the sticker price makes them far beyond the reach of the average North Korean.

Kudos to Frank for having the patience to cull some of this material and provide an overview.

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Stephan Haggard Senior Research Staff

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