A New Chromebook Could Kill the New MacBook Air

Computer makers aren't helping users navigate the cloud era. And that includes Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , says Tim Beyers of Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Supernova in the following video.

The new MacBook Air tops out at just 8 GB of RAM -- a strategic mistake when users have come to embrace memory-hogging cloud computing services on a bigger scale. According to Netcraft, there are now more than 158,000 computers controlled by Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) and its web-hosting service, up from 4,600 just four years ago.

Cloud computing is rapidly becoming the new normal in computing, which means users need systems capable of running in-browser apps faster, more efficiently, and more securely. And that, in turn, demands more memory. Apple had a disruptive opportunity to turn the Air into a cloud-optimized machine, and then whiffed.

But so did Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) when it gave just 4 GB of memory to Chromebook Pixel buyers. That's the good news for Apple investors. Today's MacBook Air may be lacking as an onramp to the cloud, but there's still time to remedy the problem.

Think of what might be were Apple to design an Air with 32 GB or even 64 GB of RAM. Even Chromebook Pixel fans would be hard-pressed to pass up the $1,000 MacBook in that configuration. And if Google gets there first? Look out below.

Do you agree? Please watch to get Tim's full take, and then let us know what you think of the new MacBook Air in the comments box below.

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Read/Post Comments (20) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 7:16 PM, RadarTheKat wrote:

    The premise doesn't make sense. When software is run from the cloud it takes no more memory than when run from local storage. 8GB of RAM is a whole lot of RAM. A whole lot. What software needs anywhere near that much RAM when running? Are you thinking people will be caching the entire contents of the library of congress or a detailed CAD rendering of a full-fledged particle accelerator? Sorry, but the vast majority of consumers of lightweight, slim form factor laptops are not going to need more than 8GB of RAM. 256GB of local storage might be too little for some who are not storing everything in the cloud, but that's another story.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 8:21 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @velvetbulldozer,

    Thanks for the comment.

    >>this poor blogger has "written" 2 aapl blogs today...

    Actually, I filed both articles several days ago.

    >> ...both filled with nonsense

    Okay, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's hear a reasonable counter-argument that helps investors.

    Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://about.me/timbeyers

    http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 8:30 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @RadarTheKat,

    >>The premise doesn't make sense. When software is run from the cloud it takes no more memory than when run from local storage.

    Except this isn't true.

    There's a difference between accessing a local hard drive and processing a script insider a browser. RAM buffers the CPU when processing JavaScript, etc. for browser-based apps.

    Keep a lot of tabs -- and therefore, apps -- open (like any cloud power user does) and you'll start taxing the RAM.

    Finally, while I agree that 8GB is fine for most casual users, I expect Apple to lead rather go with a typical config. That's why I consider the new Air a missed opportunity.

    Thanks for writing and Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://about.me/timbeyers

    http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:03 PM, bugnuts wrote:

    Another blogger salivating over Chrome's imminent conquest of Apple.

    And one day, Wiley E. Coyote will get that Roadrunner.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:12 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @bugnuts,

    Directing you to the disclosure statement:

    >>Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication.

    Thanks for the comment, though.

    Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://about.me/timbeyers

    http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:15 PM, Electromoose wrote:

    The above assumption about RAM on cloud (browser based) applications is 90% nonsense and 10% fact. For a reasonable explanation on browser ram consumption and performance see the following discussion which is very informed and highly accurate.

    http://blog.mozilla.org/nnethercote/2012/07/09/how-to-compar...

    This is relevant to investors because the writer is suggesting google and apple throw very expensive RAM at applications where it adds little value decreasing their profit margins.

    Browser RAM management is very complex. JavaScript requires very little RAM relative to the total system around.

    This is not a "more" is better situation. Ill always take more RAM as a developer but I know better than to pay for it if its not going to do me any good.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:19 PM, Jbrickley wrote:

    Clearly the author does not understand basic computer concepts let alone Cloud technology. As a result, this article is shockingly inaccurate!

    Cloud computing can mean many different things. In the early days of the Internet those drawing on a whiteboard would document a company or data center network via line diagrams then draw a fluffy cloud and call that the Internet. That's it, that is the term Cloud in a nutshell. It is a meaningless term in itself. The term has been abused by marketing people.

    Today, the Cloud typically means Internet storage and a whole lot of virtual machine servers. So nothing more than data centers that store your data, business applications, web application servers on the Internet instead of in a companies own data center or on a users personal computer. Essentially it is outsourcing your data center or your personal storage. There are some serious security concerns with Internet Cloud systems. The term Private Cloud means bringing the Cloud technology into a companies internal network or Intranet.

    Adding RAM to a laptop won't improve the Cloud experience at all. However, increasing your Internet speed will. Caching Cloud content is done on the hard disk, not in RAM and typically its not a lot of data either.

    The new MacBook Air comes with 8GB of RAM a super fast PCIe Flash Solid State Disk (crazy fast, quicker than any previous SSD in any laptop ever. As much as twice as fast). It also comes with 802.11ac wireless which when combined with an 802.11ac router is 3 times faster. But it all bottlenecks at your cable modem. The only thing they could use all that speed is Google Fiber.

    Internet speeds need to be increased. Any company doing it first will make billions and drive the entire industry. Right now there are only two companies bringing Optic Fiber to the curb, Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber. No one else is looking at it yet. Comcast / Xfinity actually said consumers don't want it! Talk about denial!

    It's not about RAM it's about bandwidth. The USA is way behind South Korea and Japan in having Gigabit Internet speeds to homes and businesses.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:22 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @Electromoose,

    Thanks for writing.

    >>... very expensive RAM

    Therein lies your problem. RAM is anything but expensive, especially for Apple.

    Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://about.me/timbeyers

    http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 9:50 PM, Ridonkulous wrote:

    I think the notion that you need a notebook to run web-based apps is shattered for the most part by the fact that you can use a tablet of your choice to run these.

    Cloud-computing isn't necessarily running a web-based app, as Jbrickley indicates, it's your data that's being accessed.

    If 8 GB of RAM is fine for "casual users", a power user requiring more maybe shouldn't be using web-based apps?

    As a MacBook Air user with 8 GB, more RAM is great, but if the web-based app is not built with existing hardware limitations in mind and limitations of browser memory utilization, then it's not a problem that hardware needs to fix.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 11:55 PM, BirderScott wrote:

    >>

    Cloud computing is rapidly becoming the new normal in computing, which means users need systems capable of running in-browser apps faster, more efficiently, and more securely. And that, in turn, demands more memory. Apple had a disruptive opportunity to turn the Air into a cloud-optimized machine, and then whiffed.

    <<


    I think this is a weak - but interesting to discuss - correlation.

    There is nothing inherently more RAM hungry about cloud applications - there are plenty of RAM hungry desktop applications out there that never touch the network. The effect that Tim is speaking to is more related to the general inefficiencies of the JavaScript/HTML runtimes of the browsers he (and the rest of us) increasingly rely on as we live more and more “in the cloud”.

    This issue (laptops needing more RAM to be usable as we rely on browsers more) is more a software problem with lots of opportunities for improvement, versus something that will be best fixed by a move to laptops with 32GB+ of RAM. In other words, there is more opportunity for ROI by improving the browser/Javascript runtimes, improving the quality of code that the cloud developers turn out (for example http://addyosmani.com/blog/taming-the-unicorn-easing-javascr... and making better use of the already huge amounts of RAM that todays laptops have.

    8GB of RAM is a lot of RAM for one user. Combine that with today’s extremely fast Solid State Drives (SSD’s) and a modern Operating System that can quickly “page out” parts of applications not currently needed in RAM, and the real question becomes this:

    * For the typical desktop user, why the HECK can’t you have a decent user experience with 8GB of RAM?

    With native applications (not browser based), unless you are a software developer (like me) who churns through thousands of files every minute, or someone working on enormous CAD files, or pictures, or digital video... in other-words, a “normal” business user - 8GB has become a sweet spot for desktop performance. At least 80% of your typical desktop users should be just fine with 8GB of RAM. If they aren’t - there is some craptastical code that needs fixing! ;)

    If it is true (and Tim may be able to attest to this) that the user experience on 8GB with lots and lots and lots of browser tabs open at once is unacceptable, here is what is going to happen a lot sooner than everyone suddenly getting laptops with 32GB+ of RAM:

    * The vendors make their OS’es faster and more efficient

    * The Browser makers do the same (they do keep playing leapfrog with one another on this front)

    * The Cloud app developers do the same

    And all of the above entities have a huge vested interest in making progress on these fronts. Everyone likes updates that make their software faster and more efficient. Nobody likes to be told they need to spend more $$$ for RAM to make some crappy inefficient code run better. If Chrome suddenly runs my cloud apps way better than Firefox - guess what? I am switching browsers long before I think about buying more RAM!

    So if a “fully loaded cloud laptop” is struggling today with 8GB, which I contend should be plenty for a “typical business user”, I truly believe we will see progress on the above list, and pretty soon our machines will be breathing easy with 8GB.

    Will 16GB and 32GB become the “new normal” for laptop RAM? Surely... but I don’t think it will be pulled there “because of the cloud”.

    (BTW we haven’t even touched on the increasing number of cores our laptops have, and how well the OS/browser/application stack can take advantage of that to further improve things. But let’s leave that out to keep this simple!)

    So I guess my point here is... I don’t think it’s fair to “blame the cloud” for making 8GB feel too small, or to think this will put the latest MB Air iteration at a RAM-based competitive disadvantage and in a weak spot that Google can pounce on. It is true that the RAM adds costs to the laptops, and at these sizes it’s not a linear function of GB’s. I would guess that if Google really could outflank AAPL with 32GB RAM hardware, the Chromebook vendors would be easily outgunned by $AAPL and it’s ability to pre-purchase components.

    In other words - if AAPL is going to lose on the MB Air front to GOOG, I don’t think it would be over the amount of RAM the laptops max out at.

    If the MB Air is going to lose to the Chromebook, I believe it will be due to other concerns such as:

    * device form factor and industrial engineering (do people “like the feel”, is it easy to travel with, etc...)

    * software and hardware usability

    * stability, performance and reliability

    * social network effects (how many of my friends/co-workers have one?)

    * battery life

    * overall value proposition - does it make the owners life better? I have not seen that yet, nor read any reviews to that effect from those in the industry that I would trust, like Mossberg: http://allthingsd.com/20120612/even-with-a-little-polish-chr...

    * personal network effect (how well does this laptop tie into my personal at-home ecosystem of media, games, and apps)

    * cost, long term value, perceived “riskiness” as a purchase

    * does the screen looks AWESOME

    * does the keyboard FEEL GREAT

    * does it give me SATISFACTION

    I would place my bet on AAPL for almost all of the above - I just can’t see how Chromebooks have a chance. If the “cloud model” is the future, I am sure AAPL will bake that into their OS more and more, as we saw them do at the last WWDC with the iCloud version of some of their apps.

    Philosophically, as a total tech geek, do I prefer the Chromebook? YES - big time! I love Linux, and I love the Google vision, and honestly hope they keep a major fire lit under Cupertino’s butt. But practically, for day to day use, and perceived success in the market place for the next 5 years, I see NO CHANCE that AAPL should be worried about the Chromebooks. I believe that the MB Air will continue to be one of the sweetest laptops out there for many typical business users.

    Disclosure: AAPL is one of my largest individual stock positions, and I also have a large GOOG position.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 11:57 PM, BirderScott wrote:

    First link in my previous post is broken, here it is again:

    http://addyosmani.com/blog/taming-the-unicorn-easing-javascr...

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 7:38 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    That would be stupid. It's nothing but a rock without a connection.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 8:47 AM, Jbrickley wrote:

    "Cloud-computing isn't necessarily running a web-based app, as Jbrickley indicates, it's your data that's being accessed." -- Ridonkulous

    I really didn't say it was "web-based". Cloud technology includes web-based but many times can just be a custom API (Application Programming Interface) accessed by a mobile device App or maybe a JavaScript App that loads into the browser and makes API calls to a server based App. (offline GMail, etc.) Amazon EC2 is an API based Cloud technology.

    The mobile App solutions can provided a full native application feel on a mobile device. LinkedIn is one such mobile App (iOS Objective-C) that talks to a Node.js Cloud application (server-side JavaScript). The Chromebook is noting but a bare bones Linux with a very simple user interface running the Chrome browser. Whereas the iPad and Android devices provide a full blown platform.

    The concept of having many browser tabs open for Cloud technology and stating that 8GB's of RAM is not enough; well that's a huge stretch. The RAM is being consumed by the browser and both Chrome and Mozilla can gobble up a lot of RAM and resources. But as Birder Scott explains, it's more of a software issue with the browsers and their implementation of JavaScript in the browser itself. (Apple's Mavericks announcement showed an improved Safari browser that uses less memory and even less power than Chrome/Mozilla while still being faster. I am sure both competitors will release updates soon to further increase speed and efficiency). The Cloud application downloads the JavaScript to the browser, it can be kept on the disk so it doesn't need to re-download in future. However, the whole concept of running everything in a browser is basically an ugly hack. It's a work around to running native code. It has become quite sophisticated over the years due to vast browser improvements but it is still a hack. i.e. forcing a native application feel from an entirely web based server is not easy and never really gets there 100%. If your Cloud solution runs in a browser, than by comparison to traditional application development it's a hack. It's a workaround. It's beating around the bush and leaping through hoops of fire to accomplish what a native application can achieve.

    A mobile App is a native App that talks to a Cloud service via API calls this is much more elegant and explains the popularity of iOS Apps with a Cloud backend. Java was once considered to be the right solution but now it's just more about server side than client side. The write once run everywhere concept was supposed to be a holy grail but the market didn't agree. Thankfully, as there have been many client side Java security issues lately as well as with Flash.

    I really think things are headed more toward native Apps on mobile devices talking to Cloud API's. The new Microsoft Office for iPhone is a native iOS Objective-C App that talks to the Cloud based Office 365.

    The forerunner to the mobile device App that interfaces to the Cloud would be all those widget systems and screen scraping systems such as Sherlock, etc. This evolved into what we now call a Mobile App. Finally, you have a native App running on a device (mostly a mobile device iOS/Android/etc.) that takes full advantage of all the native GUI has to offer. It is fast, energy efficient, supports all the user interface features available and with the advent of online App stores, easily updated/upgraded, and easy payments are possible. This is why Apple, Amazon, and Google have all started their own App stores. Where all this is headed, is anyone's guess.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 9:56 AM, isaaccs wrote:

    8 gigabytes is more than sufficient for web apps today and will be for some years to come. Although substantial RAM will benefit any software, this article paints a rather misleading picture because the most demanding software is also currently the least likely to be running in the cloud.

    Additionally, there is no mention that the MBA's internal drive is an SSD. Although not quite as fast as RAM, the distinction is increasingly less relevant. SSDs are fast, making both caching and virtual swapping so quick that its really a moot point.

    Ultimately the MBA is well equipped to handle just about any consumer task, regardless of whether the source is disk or cloud based.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 2:30 PM, deeu wrote:

    The author clearly does not understand computers or cloud computing and this article is poorly written. I would be concerned if I were a Rule Breakers subscriber, that I am paying real money for advice from an 'expert' of this calibre.

    Terrible.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 3:35 PM, FoolinSD wrote:

    Tim, I think you owe the readers of TMF a BIG apology. Its crap like this that makes me a glad I'm not part of RB & SN.

    In cloud computing, the heavy lifting is suppose to be done on the server.

    Where are you basing your premise that an air user would have more tabs open?

    foolinsd

    running ubuntu at work to fully utilize 12GB of ram running the company xp in a virtual machine + 4 other vm for test purposes.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 10:15 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @FoolInSD and all,

    Thanks for writing.

    My apologies for oversimplifying the argument here. There are complexities aplenty I should have -- and didn't -- account for in this piece.

    I appreciate the extended discussion. Valuable stuff.

    It's been a rough couple of days for me here. But as always, I promise to take my lumps and work to do better.

    Thanks again and Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://about.me/timbeyers

    http://timbeyers.me

  • Report this Comment On June 20, 2013, at 12:34 AM, InsideInvestor wrote:

    Hi guys, I am just stating what I think.

    I play computer games. Good quality graphics and big map in games take up a lot of memory. I previously played a game which took up 4GB of my computer. I loved the game, but my computer keeps freezing because the memory was almost full. I hated it.. That was 6 years ago. Games are improving (new maps regularly) but computer RAMs are not. There are a lot of consumers with the same interest. Better still when bigger RAM space will mean that prices of smaller RAM will be cheaper.

    Just a 17 year old pouring his thoughts..

  • Report this Comment On June 20, 2013, at 9:51 PM, BirderScott wrote:

    JBrickley wrote:

    >>

    I really think things are headed more toward native Apps on mobile devices talking to Cloud API's.

    <<

    Yes! Agreed 100%.

    -Scott

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 11:09 AM, stefna wrote:

    Macaloped. Yeehaah.

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