Startups Give E-mail a Big Boost on the iPhone with ReMail and GPush

8/14/09Follow @wroush

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data roaming rates—except that the rates are even higher in Europe, at $19.97 per megabyte. “AT&T must be printing money with this,” he says.

Cselle should know a bit about printing money: he’s a former Google software engineer who worked alongside Paul Buchheit and Sanjeev Singh, the inventors of Gmail. In fact, Buchheit and Singh—who went on to co-found FriendFeed, which was acquired by Facebook this week—are NextMail’s primary angel investors. After Google, Cselle spent some time as vice president of engineering at Xobni, the San Francisco startup that built a search utility for Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program. He started building the reMail app while participating in Y Combinator’s venture incubator program in Mountain View, CA, last winter.

The other two big technical hurdles Cselle had to overcome, by the way, were programming reMail to quickly search the full text e-mail archives on the iPhone, and making the app work with all types of e-mail servers, which can use different versions of the IMAP Internet mail protocol. “There’s a lot of technology in this product,” Cselle says.

Gabor CselleWhich is what makes him comfortable about the app’s relatively high price: $4.99 right now, going up to $9.99 on September 1. That’s a lot more expensive than most apps in the iTunes App Store, and I asked Cselle why he decided against a lower price, or going the “freemium” route with a free basic version and a full-featured premium version. “We beta tested this app with about 100 people,” he says. “We asked them what they would pay and got responses that ranged much higher than the $4.99 we’re pricing this at…So we’re comfortable pricing reMail like this.”

Surprisingly, given Apple’s recent reputation for rejecting apps that perform functions that compete with (or highlight the shortcomings of) the iPhone’s built-in capabilities, Cselle says reMail “sailed through” the iTunes App Store approval process in only two weeks. Josh Lowensohn over at CNET speculates that Apple is getting ready to launch its own version of full-text e-mail search, which would make reMail unnecessary and might diminish reMail’s status in Apple’s mind as a competitor.

But it’s even more surprising that Apple approved GPush, the second iPhone app that I want to tell you about. GPush makes up for one of the inherent flaws in the iPhone’s built-in e-mail system, which is that it can’t “push” e-mail to your phone if Gmail is your primary e-mail service. Gmail messages are “fetched” rather than pushed— meaning they sit on Gmail’s servers for 15 minutes or more before the iPhone grabs them. You can get push e-mail on the iPhone if you switch to Apple’s $99-per-year MobileMe service or if your company has an Exchange server. But until GPush came along, Gmail users were out of luck.

The creation of Cambridge, MA-based startup Tiverias Apps, GPush costs just $0.99 and actually went live in the iTunes App Store on August 8. But the company had to withdraw the app from the store almost immediately after an unexpected crush of users brought its servers to a near-halt and exposed an architectural flaw. Co-founder Yoni Gontownik tells me the company is fixing the problems, and plans to make the app available again today. [Update, 10:00 a.m., August 17, 2009: The release was delayed over the weekend, but the app is now available in the App Store.]

GPush makes use of the new push notification functions included in the 3.0 version of the iPhone’s operating system. Whenever someone sends a new message to your Gmail account, a little note resembling a text message pops up on your iPhone’s unlock screen, showing the sender and subject of the message. You can then … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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