reMail brings better email search to the iPhone

Apple’s Mail application for the iPhone has been getting better, but it’s still less than fantastic. Downloading or searching emails that are on the server (rather than on your phone) can be a pretty painful experience, especially given the continuing spottiness of AT&T’s mobile network. Now an iPhone application called reMail wants to end your suffering by downloading all your emails onto your phone.

A beta test version of reMail was released earlier this year, but chief executive Gabor Cselle (who previously worked on email products Xobni and Gmail) says it was completely different product. “The only thing they share is the artwork,” he says.

Both versions offered a big advantage over Apple’s email app by allowing users to search the full text of an email, not just the “from “, “to”, and “subject” areas, but the old reMail still kept your emails on a server. By downloading all of your emails to your phone, the new reMail takes longer to set up (the download process took me several hours, and drained my iPhone from full power to nearly empty), but once that’s done, it can search five times faster than Apple Mail, Cselle says, and it also allows you to search and access all your email all the time, even when you can’t get a good network connection. (Another benefit of shifting reMail from a server-based approach is that users no longer have to share their email addresses and passwords with a third-party web service.)

Of course, the downside of dowloading all your emails to your iPhone is the amount of space they take up. But space is less of a concern than you’d think, since reMail only downloads specific attachments when you ask it to, and finds other ways to use space efficiently. One million emails would take up about five gigabytes on your iPhone, Gabor says — that’s a big chunk, but it’s still doable. And most people don’t have one million emails.

I also wonder if Apple could threaten reMail by just improving the Mail App, but Gabor doesn’t sound too worried.

“Yes, Apple could do anything,” he says. “But I’m not sure they’ve understood the importance of full-text search in email. That’s really the Google/Gmail mindset. Let’s see what happens.”

reMail will cost $9.99, but is currently on sale for $4.99. The San Francisco startup was incubated by Y Combinator; in fact, it was my favorite presentation at the last Y Combinator Demo Day, but I couldn’t write about it yet because it was in stealth mode. It has also raised funding from Paul Buchheit and Sanjeev Singh, who worked on Gmail and co-founded the newly-acquired FriendFeed.

Here’s a demo video: