Tech in North Korea: Getting online in the world’s most isolated country

Right now in North Korea, someone is tapping away on an iPhone. He or she can share photos, video chat, and – if they were so inclined – read Tech in Asia. In the same country, at the same time, there is someone whose interaction with electronics begins and ends with a radio.

Writing about North Korea from outside of the country can feel like describing a room just by peering at it through a keyhole – even if you see something, it’s impossible to get enough context for it to make any sense. When it comes to tech, the nominally Communist society is wildly unequal. Who you are – your job, your education, your location – means the difference between a 3G-connected iPhone in your pocket and having never even heard of the internet.

[Read on Tech in Asia]


Gogoro is a geeky electric scooter with the soul of a motorbike

After getting a tour of Gogoro’s flagship store in downtown Taipei, I reached a conclusion about the company’s electronic scooters: they’re geekcycles. What else would you call a bike that lets you use your phone to upload custom chime sounds for the turn signals? A bike whose app allots “merit badges” for triumphs like using a charging station at night or riding a certain distance between charges? When I saddled into the bike for a test drive, I thought I was atop a charming – if slightly nerdy – ride.

I thought wrong. My mistake dawned on me about two turns into our test drive, as the kindly shop assistant, Amy, opened the freaking throttle and fired us from a full stop to 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) in a matter of seconds. And she was just getting started.

[Read on Tech in Asia]


Year of the Smart Bike

You’re standing in line at a coffee shop, ready to order, when your cellphone goes off. It’s from your bike: ‘Someone is stealing me!’ Ignoring the eager barista, you burst from the cafe to spot a bike thief in action. He panics, and bails.

Or let’s take another scenario. You click your helmet into place, hunch over the handle bars, ratchet up to a high gear and begin pedaling so fast it feels like your knees will hit you in the nose. You fly from Waibaidu Bridge on the North Bund to Yan’an Lu on the South in record time. You pull over, catch your breath and check your phone. Damn! A good speed, but the app says another cyclist has done better.

Those are the type of situations that the people at Basic Conception are hoping will attract business. After 10 months of research, design and development, the Shanghai-based start-up is getting ready to present its technology-equipped ‘BiCi’ smart bike to the world.

[Read in That’s Shanghai, February 2015]


Sexist. Unoriginal. Genius.

The most iconic photo submitted to Chinese cellphone maker OnePlus’s recent contest was a girl holding both of her hands up, middle fingers extended. One hand had the OnePlus logo written on it in black ink and the other hand said, “Don’t be sexist!” The headline read “OnePlus asks women to participate in degrading contest to get a smartphone.”

The campaign was not a success.

Maybe it had seemed like a good idea at the time? The cellphone company had been able to generate much excitement about its upcoming ‘One’ smartphone, which was receiving rave reviews online. “A tiny Chinese startup has made my favorite new smartphone of the year” gushed a Business Insider headline. The phone featured top-of-the-line hardware, sleek looks and a mind-blowing low price.

Seeking to capitalize on the buzz, OnePlus launched a campaign this August entitled ‘Ladies First.’ The company invited women to submit photos of their bodies with the OnePlus logo written on their “hand/ face/wherever” — but did include the admonition, “Ladies, no nudity please” — promising that whoever received the most ‘likes’ online would win an invitation to buy the new phone — they still had to pay, mind you — and a t-shirt. Accusations of sexism ensued, and the company pulled the competition and issued a hasty apology, calling their campaign “a misguided effort.”

[Read in That’s Shanghai, October 2014]