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Bookle: Hands-on with the new Mac EPUB reader app

During Apple's January education event, one thing that many Apple bloggers were waiting for never appeared -- a version of iBooks for Mac. While that was a surprising omission, at least there's a new and well-implemented Mac book reader app that handles the EPUB format of most iBooks with ease and grace. Bookle (US$9.99) is a collaboration of Take Control Books publisher Adam Engst and Australian developer Peter Lewis of Stairways Software.

Bookle, which is available in the Mac App Store, reads non-DRM versions of EPUB books from the iBookstore. This is one of my few concerns about the app at this point, as many iBooks are copy-protected by digital rights management encryption. As Engst points out in the Introduction of the "Take Control of Bookle (1.0)" ebook that ships with the app, the main goal of this version of the app was to "get a program out quickly that can help you read our ebooks in the here and now." He admits that they may not be able to add support for reading DRM-encrypted ebooks, since "Neither Apple nor Amazon will license their DRM systems, and while Adobe will license Adobe Digital Editions, it's a six-figure cost...".

Getting that out of the way, let's take a look at the app. Bookle's icon is gloriously and beautifully designed (see image at top), which gives you an idea of the attention to detail given to the entire app. Bookle stores the EPUB files in the Application Support directory due to the Mac App Store sandboxing requirements, and books are easy to add to the Bookle library. You can use File > Open, drag the EPUB file onto the Bookle icon in the Dock or Finder, or just double-click the EPUB file.

Once the EPUBs are in the Library, they appear in a sidebar on the left side of the app's window. The sidebar of Bookle displays the list of ebooks and the table of contents of the ebook being read. At the top of the window are buttons to go back and forth in your reading history or up or down in chapters. There are also controls for changing the ebook's font and the font size, as well as setting the background color of the page.

As with many Lion apps, Bookle supports full-screen mode. I found this to be overkill on a 27" iMac, but it works very nicely on a smaller screen such as that on an 11" MacBook Air. If you close a window or quit the app, Bookle brings you right back to the last page you were reading when you open the book again. Bookle also has support for multi-touch gestures. Swiping two fingers left or right changes chapters when using a trackpad. There's also support for text-to-speech, so if you'd prefer to have an ebook read to you by your Mac, that's easy to do.

If you want to do side-by-side reading of two texts, all you need to do with Bookle is open each book in a separate window. I found this to be useful while making a comparison of two editions of one ebook, and I think it could also be very helpful if you're reading an ebook in one window and an explanatory text in the other window.

I mentioned earlier that I had a few concerns about Bookle -- one glaring omission is the inability to search a book for a specific word or phrase. I'd also like to see the ability to add bookmarks and make notations included in future versions of the app.

I'm sure that some TUAW readers will balk at Bookle's $10 price tag when Calibre is available for free. Frankly, I find Calibre to be a bloated (210.8 MB compared to Bookle's 4.1 MB) and poorly-implemented app that's horrible to use, and for reading ebooks it actually launches a separate ebook app called E-book Viewer. Bookle looks good, and is an excellent 1.0 implementation of a Mac ebook reader. I can't wait to see what the team of Lewis and Engst is able to add to Bookle in future versions.



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Software Mac App Store

During Apple's January education event, one thing that many Apple bloggers were waiting for never appeared -- a version of iBooks for...