It might be closer than you think.
If you spend any time cruising the tech blogs, you've heard this latest rumor: a new MacBook Air is due at the end of June. Early rumors peg the device as packing an Intel Sandy Bridge CPU and a Thunderbolt port.
The Air line is Apple's "competition" for the iPad. So we can expect that this next Air will measure up well against the iPad 2. It'll need an even thinner frame, even longer battery life, and even faster boot times. And while we're dreaming of these iterative improvements, we might as well consider one wild card: a touchscreen.
It seems inevitable that, at some point, Apple will start releasing their MacBooks (and later Macs) with touchscreen displays. While the keyboard/mouse (or touchpad) interface is superior for certain tasks, like word processing or cut/paste, users prefer a touchscreen for browsing, gaming and more. A touchscreen capable Air would be usable on-the-go and still powerful enough to act as a primary computing device.
And a touchscreen Air would also keep up Apple's sterling reputation for beating Microsoft to the punch. The Windows 8 launch will be followed by a swarm of tablet notebooks packing live tiles and suspiciously Zune-y media software. Microsoft will brag that ARM Windows 8 machines offer the full power of a Windows computing experience with the speed and efficiency of a mobile device.
Implemented well, and Apple's recent track record makes that likely, a touchscreen Air would be a bold move against the next generation of Windows machines. It would also be exactly what Apple wants- the worthiest iPad competition on the market.
But will it happen?
It seems terribly unlikely that such a tremendous move could be set for the end of this month, sandwiched in between Apple's other recent, giant announcements. But if the iPhone 5 has been delayed, a touchscreen Air would keep the world buzzing until its launch. A June 2012 launch is much more likely though, and would still put the Air Touch out well ahead of the Windows-packing competition.
Touchscreen laptops have been around for a while, but all of them are either prohibitively expensive or somewhat lacking in user-friendliness. Poor-quality touchscreens, terrible UIs, awful battery life...there's a lot of room for improvement. And stepping in to high-potential form-factors plagued by crappy execution is what Apple does best. They didn't invent the smartphone or the tablet PC. But they made them worth buying for the masses.