Though I’m not quite ready to jettison my bookcase full of real paper books, ebooks have definitely won me over and convinced me of their worth due to both their portability and the fact that historical, classic and other copyright-free texts such as Leo Tolstoy’s complete works or Homer’s Iliad can be downloaded for free legally through resources such as the wonderful Project Gutenberg.
While there’s a decent selection of ebook readers for Apple’s portable devices, I’ve found the Mac software somewhat lacking and so welcomed the opportunity to give Kitabu a try.
First impressions count and the screen which one is presented with when launching Kitabu for the first time is somewhat underwhelming – perhaps some basic instructions or a few included public domain books would have been more pleasing to the new user. Still, on the other hand, to be completely fair to the app, there’s nothing at all wrong with Kitabu’s interface and once one starts adding books, its workmanlike interface becomes a little more engaging.
Adding your downloaded books is easily achieved by navigating Kitabu’s menubar and selecting Import to Library. Once this has been done, the ebooks then appear on the main Library window for easy navigation.
Features and limitations
At present, Kitabu is only able to handle ePub files, which may or may not be a deal breaker, depending on the format which your ebooks currently are. If, for example, you own a Kindle and would like to read Kindle’s standard ebook format on your Mac, you’re out of luck and would perhaps be better advised to make use of the official Amazon Kindle app for Mac.
Besides the lack of support for formats other than ePub, there is one far less forgivable limitation of Kitabu and that is its lack of bookmarking. Not even a basic bookmark is available, nor will the app remember where you left off, making the navigation of large books rather cumbersome.
Moving on from these issues, Kitabu does have some standard features, such as the ability to choose between standard black-on-white text, white-on-black or a sepia background with black text, with the aim of reducing eye strain. There are also options for many different fonts, a button for bringing up the table of contents and a view selector which switches between one, two or three column views. In addition, a bar at the bottom of the main windows shows the percentage of the book which is completed so far and there is also the all important fullscreen button.
Considering the prevalence of ebooks nowadays, there are comparatively few well known Mac apps and the two main competitors which Kitabu must hope to displace are Kindle and Stanza, both of which have iOS clients as well.
Amazon’s Kindle app is obviously by far the most popular ebook reader on any platform and with good reason too – able to sync between several devices and with a pleasing interface and integration with Amazon’s services, the Kindle will meet most people’s needs. However, Amazon’s growing monopoly of the ebook platform and the company’s patchy privacy history which includes, in high irony, deleting purchased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from users devices following a publishing dispute, leaves many people uncomfortable and for this reason they look elsewhere.
Like Kitabu and Kindle, Stanza is also free but the app treads a line somewhere between the stripped down Kitabu and the features which are offered by Amazon, boasting its own iOS app and support for most non-DRM protected book formats, such as HTML and plain text. However, though the functionality was originally promised, Stanza cannot currently read DRM protected formats like Amazon’s Kindle books.
It is also worth mentioning that Stanza itself is actually owned by Amazon, with the huge corporation having recently bought Stanza’s developers Lexcycle. Since this purchase, the Stanza project seems to have fallen into a period of inactivity and there are questions as to the app’s future, not helped by the fact that Lexcycle’s own website appears to be down.
Due to its lack of bookmarking and the restriction of only being able to handle ebooks which are formatted in the ePub format, Kitabu still feels very much like a work in progress and cannot really be considered a direct competitor to Kindle, nor a full successor to Stanza quite yet. However, Kitabu does show a lot of promise and, providing these significant but presumably trifling issues can be ironed out with subsequent updates, this free ebook reader could become very useful indeed and offer Mac users a non-Amazon option for their ebook reading needs.
There also appears to be big plans for Kitabu too. The app’s developers state that Kitabu is part of a cloud service to be released in 2012 and, assuming these plans come to fruition, Kitabu could very well be an app which could offer a compelling challenge to the Kindle Mac app, making this one app to keep an eye out for in the future.
There's a lot to like about Kitabu and its stripped-down interface will no doubt appeal to some, but the lack of bookmarks and its inability to read anything other than ePub makes the app feel like a very promising work in progress rather than finished product.7