Millions of North Koreans now have smartphones — but they have to go to a physical store to install apps

Lee Eun-Ju of South Korea takes a selfie with Hong Un Jong of North Korea during the Winter Olympics.

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Lee Eun-Ju of South Korea takes a selfie with Hong Un Jong of North Korea during the Winter Olympics.
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Reuters/Dylan Martinez

  • 40% of North Koreans now have smartphones, according to a new report.
  • But the vast majority of these phones don’t connect to the global internet.
  • Users have to go to a physical store to download apps.

North Korea may be an intensely secretive and impoverished nation, but it’s not a technological wasteland.

Millions of North Koreans now have smartphones – as much as 40% of the population, Nknews.org reported on Monday.

That said, North Korean smartphones aren’t like the iPhones you might be familiar with in the rest of the world, because the country sharply restricts trade. However, the Android-based devices only available in North Korea do look suspiciously similar.

The biggest difference in North Korea: You can’t access the worldwide internet. You have to use the country’s internal, state-run intranet.

North Korea's Jindallae 3 smartphone

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North Korea’s Jindallae 3 smartphone
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DPRK Today

There are apps, too, but most of them are North Korean-developed. There are shopping apps and games, like a motorcycle race title called “Mt. Paektu to Mt. Hanna.”

One of the most popular apps, according to Nknews.org, is called “My Companion,” which is described as a combination of Netflix and an ebook reader.

But when North Koreans want to install additional apps, it’s tricky, because they don’t have access to the internet.

Instead, they have to go to actual app stores, physical locations where you can download apps approved by the North Korean government.

“The app store is an actual physical store,” a source told Nknews.

At these centers, technicians install apps for the user. However, some users have learned how to share games among themselves by copying and pasting the files to an memory card.

There are lots of other juicy details about daily life and technology in Hermit Kingdom in the report.