Kim Jong-un has been pictured with a mysterious smartphone by his side, sparking debate about its identity.
A mysterious black smartphone can be seen resting on the tablet next to Kim Jong-Un, its identity unknown. (Credit: AFP)
The make and model of one man's smartphone normally doesn't arouse too much interest, but when that man is Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, all normal reactions go out the window.
In a picture released by North Korea's state media, Kim is seen at a meeting with top national security advisers with a lit cigarette in one hand and the mysterious black mobile phone lying on the table close by.
While the meeting is believed to have focused on Pyongyang's threat to conduct an imminent nuclear test, in South Korea most of the media coverage has been given over to the unidentified smartphone.
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North Korea has very limited telecommunications and media access, with ordinary citizens having no access to the internet, making do with the state-run intranet. There are however over one million mobile phone subscribers in the country - following a complete ban on the devices between 2004 and 2008 when Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, was in charge.
The coverage in the South Korean media has sparked a debate as to the manufacturer of the smartphone, with some speculating that it could even have been made by South Korea's own smartphone giant Samsung.
However, according to an AFP report, Samsung has denied the possibility that one of its smartphones made its way across the border into the hands of Kim. "It's not a Samsung phone," a company spokesman said.
The problem of identifying the phone of course stems from the fact that these days smartphones tend to all follow a very similar design language, featuring a rectangular slab of glass and black plastic/aluminium.
With Samsung out of the picture the focus moved onto other Asian smartphone manufacturers and an official from the South Korean government said the picture had been analysed by the its intelligence agency, which concluded that HTC was the likely manufacturer.
The Taiwanese firm declined to identify the device but said in a statement that the company appreciated the "support of all users."
South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper suggested politics was behind the brand choice.
"It must have been politically uncomfortable for Kim Jong-un to use products made by the US and he can't publicly endorse the fact that the South is more technologically advanced," the daily said.
Mobile phones were first introduced to North Korea in 2008 with the 3G network provided by Koryolink, a joint venture between the North Korean government and Egypt-based Orascom Telecom Holding.
Just like the restricted intranet, mobile subscribers can only use their phones to call each other, with no access to people outside of North Korea.
With tensions running high at the moment in relation to Pyongyang's nuclear policy, an image of Kim using a South Korean or US-manufactured phone could have cause some international tension,
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