North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been photographed with a smartphone beside him during a meeting.
The mystery of what make of smartphone the ruler of one of the world’s most secretive countries favors has sparked international controversy not only among geeks but the average person in the Western street.
Is it an Apple iPhone? An HTC from Taiwan? A Sony from Japan? Surely not a Samsung from South Korea, the enemy across the border?
“I regret to say that I don’t think Kim would be seen dead with a Samsung,” said a technician in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
The dark phone seen beside Kim Jong-un’s elbow as he presided over a meeting with top national security advisers last week is at such an angle that its make cannot be defined.
But experts are agreed that it is definitely a smartphone, revealing that if it does actually belong to Kim Jong-un he is keeping up with modern technology.
“It’s believed that the smartphone seen in the picture belongs to Kim, given that the device was placed right next to the documents he was looking at,” said a Seoul government official.
South’s Korea’s media has given the picture – issued by North Korea’s state media – prominent coverage, along with a discussion about the possible manufacturer.
Samsung was 99% sure it wasn’t one of theirs.
“It looks more like an HTC model,” said a spokesman for the company whose Galaxy SIII phone is now outselling the iPhone.
South Korea’s intelligence agents have carefully inspected the photo and they have also concluded that the Taiwanese firm was the likely manufacturer.
So what does HTC have to say about the phone?
“We aren’t going to get into a discussion about the device but we do appreciate the support of all users,” the Taiwanese company said in a statement.
It is highly unlikely Kim Jong-un’s smartphone of choice is an iPhone – apart from the fact that the device at his side appears chunkier than an iPhone it is doubtful he would be endorsing a product of the hated United States.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspasper suggested that politics was behind the brand choice.
“It must have been politically uncomfortable for Kim Jong-un to use products made by the U.S. … and he can’t publicly endorse the fact that the South [Korea] is more technologically advanced,” it said, in a reference to Samsung phones.
Apart from highly-placed officials, about one million people in North Korea own mobile phones, which were introduced into the country in 2008 through a joint venture with the Egyptian telecom Orascom.
However, they can only phone each other and not make international calls. In addition phones available to the public cannot access the internet.
But it is believed Kim Jong-un and his close associates are able to get online to the outside world.
“Kim and his family members as well as the North’s political elite appear to use smartphones or other mobile phones capable of accessing the internet,” said a Seoul government official.
Foreign visitors entering North Korea are now allowed to bring their mobile phones into the country, but they have to purchase a local SIM card that allows them to make international calls but prevents them connecting to local people.