Sunday, October 23, 2011

Igniting the fire: Amazon unveils Kindle Fire


Amazon is set to launch its new tablet, Kindle Fire, by the end of this year

When Apple announced the impending launch of its tablet computer early last year, the naysayers were out in force, rushing to judgement on how the device would never catch on. Less than two years later, it is plain to see that not only is the iPad a massive success, but it has also generated more interest in tablet computers, rejuvenating the portable computing genre and incentivizing other companies to venture into the tablet market.

Now entering this hugely competitive arena is Amazon, the “world’s largest online retailer” and the developer of the immensely popular Kindle e-book reader. Built around the company’s core competencies, their new device, the Kindle Fire, will hope to leverage the success of the Kindle brand while further benefiting from their content providing abilities.

Launching soon
A step up from the black and white e-readers the company is known for, the new 7-inch colour tablet has a dual-core processor, and 8GB internal storage (“enough,” Amazon claims, “for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books”); the Kindle Fire has up to eight hours of battery life, makes use of Wi-Fi connectivity, and runs on a customized Android-based platform.

The device will let users connect to the Amazon Appstore as well as allowing them access to the company’s treasure-trove of digital content (at least if they reside in the States; it remains to be seen whether Amazon will pay attention to the market outside the U.S. when it comes to their services) including ebooks, movies, television shows, and music, and facilitate free cloud storage for all Amazon digital content. But perhaps the most talked about feature of the Kindle Fire is the “cloud-accelerated browser” called Amazon Silk, that “uses a "split browser" architecture to leverage the computing speed and power of the Amazon Web Services cloud”; the browser aims to optimize traffic flows, using techniques like prefetching pages and caching content.

Facing the competition
When the Kindle Fire goes on sale on the 15th of November in the US (global release dates are currently not available), a lot of interest will go into how well it fares in the fiercely competitive tablet market, especially keeping in mind that it is not only going up against other Android-based tablets and various other devices (like the Nook Color and Blackberry PlayBook, for instance), but it will also be competing against the dominating force that is the iPad. A closer look at the specs, however, suggests that Amazon is playing a slightly different game than Apple.

The Kindle Fire is smaller and has fewer features than the iPad, but it does have one substantial selling point: it is considerably cheaper. The pricing could make Kindle Fire attractive to some customers – its price tag (US$199) is significantly less than that of the entry-point iPad (US$499). The lower price predictably has a value trade-off, and the tablet clearly has its limitations; unlike the iPad, Fire lacks camera, microphone and 3G capabilities, and has a smaller screen compared to the current market leader (9.7-inches).

Overall, Kindle Fire’s focus seems to be on offering fewer features at a lower cost, and the gadget is perhaps best suited for simple content consumption, especially if the content comes from Amazon’s own services. The company will be hoping that their strong brand name will make the Kindle Fire a contender in the race for tablet market share, while also using the tablet craze to help them further capitalize on their content-rich ecosphere.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 22nd October, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

So long, Steve, and thanks for the future

In remembrance of Apple Inc.’s visionary leader
Steven Paul Jobs (1955 – 2011)

As far as technology goes, the last ten years have definitely been the decade of Apple. With the release of each of their iProducts, the company has revolutionized the tech industry, pushing the limits of popular technology and what it can do. None of this would have been possible without Steve Jobs, Apple’s then-CEO, who was not only at the helm of the renaissance of the company that he co-founded, but of an entire industry that would not have been the same without him.

In the wake of the announcement of his death, it feels almost surreal that the man in the black turtleneck will not deliver any more keynote speeches and will not be present at the launch of Apple’s future products. “It’s like Superman died,” someone has commented on a forum, and that sentiment seems remarkably apt. For the generation that has been lucky enough to witness the evolution of computing, the importance of Steve Jobs has been evident throughout these decades. His passion was palpable, his vision revolutionary, and his enthusiasm for technology contagious. And “the world,” as the official Apple statement reads, “is immeasurably better” because of him.

The person
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else's life.”
Born on the 24th of February 1955 and given up for adoption by his biological parents (Syrian father and American mother), Steve Jobs was raised by his adoptive parents in the Silicon Valley; he wouldn’t get to meet his biological sister, Mona Simpson, until they were both adults (in 1986). After finishing high school, he enrolled at Reed College before famously dropping out after only one semester. A visit to India led him to embrace Buddhism, and he would eventually marry his wife Laurene Powell (in 1991) in a ceremony presided by a Zen Buddhist monk; the couple would have three children – a son and two daughters – and he also had a daughter from a previous relationship. His health waned in recent years following his 2004 battle with pancreatic cancer, and ultimately forced him to step down from the position of his company’s CEO in August 2011.

The entrepreneur
“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
After co-founding Apple (1976), then being ousted from his own company (1985), before eventually returning (1996), Steve Jobs become one of the most influential and celebrated people in the industry, building a global business empire and amassing an estimated $8.3 billion fortune. In between, he also founded NeXT, Inc. (1985), which was subsequently purchased by Apple (1996), and created Pixar (1986), which not only revitalized the animated film industry, but also made him Disney’s largest shareholder after it was purchased by the media conglomerate (2006).
Along the way, he used his almost uncanny ability to know what the consumers wanted, even before they knew it themselves, to create a vast array of products; most notably, he help popularize personal computers with the creation of the Apple II (1977) and Macintosh (1984), and then transformed the world of gadgets with the launch of devices like the iPod portable media player (2001) (and the accompanying iTunes digital media application (2001) and store (2003)), the iPhone smartphone (2007), and the iPad tablet computer (2010). His journey may have had its ups and down, but it ultimately transformed him into one of the most fascinating business executives of all time, as the company that he started in his parents’ garage went on to change the world.

The legacy
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Irrespective of ones stance on Apple and its products, no one can deny the impact Steve Jobs has had on technology. From his contribution to fonts and GUI to popularizing sleek and powerful gadgets, Steve Jobs masterfully combined innovation with strong branding. He took ideas, transformed them into attractive products, and then sold the concepts to the world. His keynote (or "Stevenote") speeches were events that attracted massive attention. He transformed nerdy into hip, unleashing the geek in all of us. The Mac created a legion of fans with, as Douglas Adams put it, an “almost fanatical devotion to their machines”. And then the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad…each device had a ripple effect on the gadget industry as a whole, that not only created waves in his lifetime, but will continue to do so for many, many years to come.

In memoriam
  • “The world rarely sees someone who made such a profound impact. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with Steve, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.” – Bill Gates
  • “He was a great man with incredible achievements and amazing brilliance. He always seemed to be able to say in very few words what you actually should have been thinking before you thought it. His focus on the user experience above all else has always been an inspiration to me.” – Larry Page
  • “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.” – Mark Zuckerberg
  • “No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve's death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.” – Tim Cook
  • “We've lost something we won't get back. The way I see it, though, the way people love products he put so much into creating means he brought a lot of life to the world." – Steve Wozniak
- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 14th October, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Exploring new dimensions - Atif Aslam

cover story

Since the release of Aadat, Atif Aslam has gone on to become a well known name in the sub-continent. His albums – Jal Pari (2004), Doorie (2006), and Meri Kahani (2008) – have met with success, his vocals have been heard in films, and he has even been awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for his contributions to music. The 28-year-old artist has now made his acting debut in the film Bol, which was released recently. We caught up with the singer/actor to talk about his latest ventures:


Us: Could you please tell Us a bit about the movie Bol?
Atif Aslam:
Bol - the movie - is a reflection of our society and its shades. The movie has emotions, drama, and a very strong and bold message for the audiences.

Us: How did the Bol project come about? How did you get the role in the film?
Shoaib Mansoor approached me in 2009 and offered me this role of a doctor/singer in the movie. The role sounded interesting, and I signed on to do the movie after some formalities.

Us: Is there a specific reason you chose to do this project?
The specific reason was that my singing career started from Pakistan, so I wanted to start my acting career from here as well. Also, the film was being directed by Shoaib Mansoor, so I considered it a safe debut.

Us: This was your first experience as a film actor – how did it feel? Was it how you expected it to be? Did you face any difficulties?
Acting is more challenging than singing. We have to control our expressions and stretch our limits to a whole new level. I was having difficulties in the beginning as some of my colleagues in the movie said that my acting was still stiff, but Alhamdulillah it improved with time, and I was able to perform well enough to earn appreciation.

Us: How was the experience of working with the director and your co-stars?
It was great, we had a blast! And Shoaib sahib is very artistic and very professional.

Us: What did you feel when you were watching the final product?
Well, I was satisfied. Shoaib sahib knows his job really well. A few scenes were not included in the film which I understand the director didn’t consider adding.

Us: How do you feel about the response the film has received so far?
The response has been tremendous. Alhamdulillah, the movie has broken all the box office records in the history of Pakistan, and I am glad to be a part of the movie which has done so well. In fact, it has been highly praised across the border, too. I came across some great reviews from their critics admiring Shoaib sahib’s vision and actors’ hard work. People are enjoying it. Some people think that my role is short in the movie, but I believe it’s the impact that matters, not the duration.

Us: In your opinion, what makes Bol stand out?
Shoaib Mansoor, plus it is a great effort to revive the cinema culture and it will provoke thoughts of a lot of people.


Us: How did you become interested in acting?
I think it is a part of being in the showbiz, and I believe in exploring new dimensions of my talents and personality.

Us: Do you wish to continue acting? And would you consider doing Bollywood movies? Are there any projects in the pipeline?
Yeah, InshAllah, I will continue it provided I get a good response from people for my movie Bol. If there is a right script and team, then I will definitely do movies no matter what place it is.

Us: Now that you’ve taken up acting, do you feel like there has been a shift in priority from music to acting? Or is music still your main focus?
Acting is not a priority so far. Music is, and it will continue as it is, InshAllah.

Us: What do you think about the current state of the Pakistani film industry? And what can be done to improve it?
I believe there is no Pakistani film industry, whatever is being done was done on a personal effort by Shoaib Mansoor sahib. The government should make it a proper industry and announce competitions for the young filmmakers to establish it.

Us: Is there any director you would like to work with in the future? And any actor and actress?
No one in particular; [I would like to work with] anybody with a good idea and better approach towards work.


Us: What is it about being a musician that you enjoy the most? And what inspires you to make music?
My environment is my inspiration, and I take inspiration from everything around me – the people, the happenings, travelling, etcetera. The best thing about being a musician is that you have a productive and fruitful outlet to express your feelings and fulfil your passions. And love of the people is a bonus that you get along the way!

Us: You were working on a project that was meant to be in collaboration with international musicians. How is that coming along?
Alhamdulillah, I am working on it. A lot of tracks are almost done, and I will release it at the appropriate time.

Us: What do you think of the current music landscape of the country?
I see the positive side of it and I believe that this is the only good thing happening to the nation nowadays. We should respect our artists more and promote them. God bless our nation!

Us: How soon can we expect another album from you? Is there anything you can tell Us about it? And are there any other upcoming music related projects?
I’m still working on the album. Many tracks are done, and I’ll release it at the appropriate time. I am not hurrying things up for me. Right now, let the people enjoy Bol.


Us: How do you define success?
Eternal fruitfulness in this life and hereafter.

Us: How has your life changed in the past decade? Do you feel like you’ve changed as a person?
Life has gone fast and productive. Patience has also increased as Allah has been very kind.

Us: How do you deal with rumours? Is there any rumour that you’ve found particularly hard to deal with?
Normally I don’t care about them, but if there is something serious we normally clear it on our website or Facebook.

Us: What is the one achievement so far that you’re most proud of?
Alhamdulillah the love and prayers of people are the biggest achievements.

Us: Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t done so far?
I would like to explore more dimensions of music internationally, plus I wish to be more beneficial to the people of Pakistan.

Us: Any message for the readers?
Don’t let your passions die for ordinary reasons and regret afterwards.


Us: Who was the last person you called? And what did you talk about?
I dialled my friend after so long and her mother picked up saying it’s a wrong number, don’t disturb me, haha.

Us: What do you have in your pockets right now?
A lot of boarding passes, a dollar, and a SIM card to earn a few more.

Us: Which book did you read most recently?
I was reading the Holy Quran. I am loving every bit of it – the history, the sayings and words, the Prophet, oneness of Allah, faith, zakat, Ramazan, Hajj, and everything.

Us: Would you ever consider getting a tattoo? If yes, what would the tattoo be/depict?
Well I am not a tattoo person, but if I decide to get one then it’s going to be some animal; a fox maybe.

Us: When was the last time you used a pen (or pencil) to write something down? What did you write?
I have been using it for the past six days to fill up the immigration forms; that tells you a lot about my tour. Before that I wrote a song about composing myself.

Us: Do you have any pet(s)? Have you had any pets in the past? Would you consider getting a pet in the future?
I don’t have any pets, never had them, and not planning to have any in the future as well.

Atif says…
  • I love… my mom.
  • I dislike… people who keep poking their noses in others’ work.
  • I want… to explore everything.
  • I wish… peace and prosperity for my country.
  • I fear… living an unproductive life.
  • I hope… I shall never be hopeless.
  • I am grateful for… everything Allah has blessed me with.



Starring: Humaima Malick, Atif Aslam, Iman Ali, Mahira Khan, Shafqat Cheema, Manzar Sehbai, Zaib Rehman, Sagar, and Amr Kashmiri
Director: Shoaib Mansoor
Tagline: Bolne ke liye ijazat nahin, himmat chahye

- Drama; a woman (Humaima Malick) who has been sentenced to death tells her story.
- Written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor; his second film, following his big screen debut Khuda Ke Liye (2007).
- Released on the 24th of June.
- Broke the box office record for the ‘highest gross in the first week of release’ by making over Rs. 22 million in six days.
- Has received a generally positive critical and commercial reception.
- Is the big screen debut for Humaima Malick, Atif Aslam and Mahira Khan.
- Soundtrack includes vocals by Atif Aslam, Hadiqa Kiyani, Sajjad Ali, Shabnam Majeed, Ahmed Jahanzeb, and Shuja Haider.

- S.A.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A Little Bit Wicked

book review

Book: A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages
Author: Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers
Genre: Non-fiction, (auto)biography
Publisher: Touchstone
Excerpt: “People keep reminding me that billions — with a b as in bombastic and boy howdy! — yes, billions of people all over the world will be tuned in. …
I make my way backstage in my Jimmy Choos. I'm getting nervous. This doesn't happen to me much anymore. Like everyone around me, I'm a seasoned pro. Stage fright is a thing of the past. But tonight, as I prepare to step onstage, a hollow, little ice cube of doubt forms in the pit of my touchy stomach. I close my eyes. Heavenly Father...
I don't have to say anything else. He knows.
Adding one last dash of adorable to the Enchanted number is Vanessa Williams’s little daughter Sasha, so Vanessa is here, helping her get ready. She gives me a good-luck scrunch and tells me, "Sasha's going to be right there when you look at her."
It's good to have another Broadway girl backstage. There's no unnerving a woman who's conquered the pageant circuit and delivered eight shows a week. She's a glam-cat paragon of strength and calm. Sasha's learning early what it took me years to understand. Crew hands hustle out the set pieces. The hunks and I brace ourselves for places.”

She has competed in beauty pageants, performed on Broadway, acted in films and television shows, released albums, and won accolades along the way (including a Tony and an Emmy award). Her talent and impressive resume has made Kristin Chenoweth a star, and her book, A Little Bit Wicked, offers a peek at how she became the person she is today. The diminutive diva takes a light-hearted look at her life in the memoir, which, as she states, is not “a proper “tell-all” autobiography”, but a “completely biased “tell-a-little” slice of life, which reflects my personal recollections and opinions”.

The actress and singer talks about her adoption, not knowing her birth parents, and her love for her “real” family; as she explains, “family has never been restricted by genetics or paperwork” for her. Kristin also shares anecdotes from her life, revolving around friends, colleagues, fans, and even a stalker, while charting her road to showbiz success. She reminisces about finishing as the second runner-up one too many times in beauty pageants, and discusses what it was like to work on Broadway musicals such as You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Wicked, and TV series including The West Wing and Pushing Daisies (and, of course, her “huge hit sitcom” – “Huge hit. Puccini high-note huge. Ask either of the people who saw it.” – titled Kristin, which was cancelled during its first season). The actress makes several references to her faith and religious views, and also touches up on her experience with Ménière's disease, and her on-again-off-again relationship with Aaron Sorkin; the character of Harriet Hayes on his show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was inspired by her, and “the Kristin-to-Harriet correlation” is detailed in the book.

The Southern belle repeatedly displays her sunny personality and folksy charm in her memoir. But it is evident that the actress/singer could have delved a lot deeper on various experiences and issues – not just with respect to herself but also about the workings of Broadway and Hollywood – which would have made the book more interesting and revelatory, but she clearly chose not to. Also, Kristin’s (or perhaps Joni Rodgers’) writing style is at times bright and breezy, at others disjoint, overly-cutesy, and self-indulgent, while her perkiness, positivity, and religious views swing between being impressive and endearing to dichotomous and contradictory. Still, her energy is palpable throughout A Little Bit Wicked, and there are enough bits and pieces of information here to make the book appealing to her fans; if you want to take a look at a lively snapshot of the life of a showbiz star, then this short, quick read will serve the purpose.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 1st October, 2011