A number of almost concurrent events in technology means that looking for a laptop by the end of 2012 is likely to be more difficult than ever before.
The impending arrival of Windows 8 (both x86 and RT) coupled with Intel's commitment to ultrabooks, the launch of the new Ivy Bridge processor family and AMD incoming "Trinity", the democratisation of cloud computing and the drop in price of SSD storage could hasten the demise of desktops.
The operating system is going to define your hardware platform. By the end of the year, we expect Windows 8, Windows RT and Mac OS X to be the prevalent mobile platforms with Chrome OS, Tizen and Ubuntu being outsiders. Either of the three main OSes has its own pros and cons but we'd probably stick with Windows RT because of its intrinsic features and the fact that it comes with Office as default.
Windows RT is tied to the ARM-based architecture which means that ARM-based laptops are likely to be similar to tablets with a keyboard (think Asus Transformer Prime with the keyboard attachment). Indeed we expect a number of hybrid solutions to evolve, either with fixed, detachable or revolving keyboards.
We'd expect quad core processors or high powered dual core ones all the way (even the Tegra 3 - a quad core Cortex-A9 model clocked at 1.5GHz), 2GB RAM or more, 64GB SSD (rather than flash), a 15-inch screen possibly with a 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (with optional touchscreen capabilities).
A card reader, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI, USB 3.0 and 802.11ac are all desirable rather than compulsory features. ARM-based laptops are likely to be extremely thin (although the MacBook Air is a concrete example of what Intel can achieve), boosts an impressive battery life (double digit hours) and have smartphone-like capabilities (always on, built in 3G capabilities etc).