North Korean Citizens Get a Fake iPad, Sort Of

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 27 2013 5:11 PM

North Korean Citizens Get a Fake iPad, Sort Of

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A North Korean woman checks a computer in Pyongyang.

Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

You guys, North Korea has a tablet! It comes with access to more than 800 games and apps, an ultra tough exterior, a built-in camera, and a Wi-Fi connection so the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea* can finally learn about the world beyond the DMZ. This is truly a huge step forward for the secretive and dictatorial regime of Kim Jong-un, known better for its brainwashing and intermittent threats of nuclear holocaust.

OK, I’m obviously kidding. Those are specs for the LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra, the tablet we trust with our children ages 4 through 9.

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But North Korea does really have a tablet, insomuch as they’ve developed an Android-ish propaganda gadget. According to North Korea Tech, it’s called the Samjiyon, and it most certainly does not have Wi-Fi, or any sort of Internet connection. (Stop asking about the Internet! No Internet for you!) However, the Samjiyon does come pre-loaded with some totalitarian goodies designed to teach children how to form a neat line, draw the extremely complex North Korean flag, and generally be good citizens (read: minions).

The Samjiyon also has games, though Geekosystem reports that these are limited to a few tank-shooters, a basketball flinger, and “Slingshot,” a barely disguised knockoff of Angry Birds. (Actually, including an Angry-Birds-like experience is probably the best argument for calling this thing a “tablet.”)

In any event, it’s not likely the general populace will even have access to the propaganda pad, as the government strictly controls technology. And even if they did, North Koreans earn an average of just $4 a day—not really enough to support a Slingshot addiction.

All joking aside, there’s still an argument to be made that the Samjiyon is yet another mark of progress for the isolated country. Citizens who can afford them are now allowed to have cellphones. Of course, the devices aren’t permitted to make international calls, it’s a given that every text and call will be monitored by the authorities—sounds sort of familiar—and the country’s poor imitation of the Internet is a vapid kiddie pool of government approved information.

Actually, that sounds a lot like the “educator-approved content” and “kid-safe web” available on the LeapPad Ultra. You know what? Maybe our countries aren’t so different after all. North Korea just seems to treat its citizens like we treat our 4-year-olds. Though let’s be honest—any 4-year-old worth her snuff has already memorized the password to the iPad.

Correction, June 27, 2013: This blog post originally omitted the word "Democratic" from "the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."

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Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.