By Lou Carlozo, dealnews contributor Apple fanatics and followers are notoriously fickle and loyal, but they also recognize a voice of authority when they read one. And few uphold the mantle with as much experience and sagacity as Michael Rose, lead editor at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, aka TUAW. TUAW started back in 2004, but Rose began beavering away on Macs long before that. His first Mac was a 128K original, and that primitive launching pad served him well, as Rose went on to a 10-year career in editorial technology at Entertainment Weekly and LIFE. Yet like the music critic who's actually a musician, Rose writes about tech with singular expertise, as he's got experience as an IT manager. Rose was gracious enough to give dealnews a chunk of his time to talk about what's new with Apple, and what he's geeked out about these days. Here's his quick take on what Apple lovers can expect from the computing colossus in the weeks and months ahead. You wrote recently about Mountain Lion being the most successful OS X release in Apple's history. Is the excitement justified in this case? What makes Mountain Lion a quantum leap over Lion or even Snow Leopard? Michael Rose: The advantages of Mountain Lion over Lion are going most evident for new Mac owners coming to the platform via the iPhone or iPad, as the system upgrade continues the trend of iOS features moving "Back to the Mac." The Notification Center, Messages support, the Share button, AirPlay Mirroring, Dictation, and iCloud document storage — all of these debuted on the mobile device side. That's not to say there isn't plenty to appreciate and enjoy for longtime Mac users, though. The new system is faster, cleaner, and tuned for the latest Mac hardware. Upgrading is also quick and easy, and, at $19.99, it's a bargain. Rumors continue to bounce around about an iPhone 5, and some people even claim to have photos of the actual phone casing. How do you handle rumors like that, and can you share what you know about any future iPhone release? MR: There's such a low signal-to-noise ratio in the iPhone rumor channels that we have to look at all these rumors with a very stern, critical eye. The problem is, our audience is craving this information — and believe me, so are we! Our job is to look at what's coming up and try to give it our best editorial review while recognizing that there's a lot of pent up excitement in the market for these anticipated devices. As far as sharing what I know, I think at this point it's well accepted that a new phone is coming from Apple in the autumn, possibly accompanied by another iOS device with a different form factor than what we've seen before. The likeliest new feature would be LTE networking support, which Apple has been "pilot testing" via the new iPad. If the battery life and reception challenges can be addressed — and there's every reason to think they will be — then the next iPhone will be the fastest one yet. Steve Jobs was such a monumental figure at Apple. How has Tim Cook shepherded the company since Jobs passed? MR: Very well. It's important to recall that Cook was the acting CEO of the company several times before taking on the role permanently. He's the right person to lead Apple now, and he has a great team behind him. Is there a product that Apple has in development that you're particularly excited about, or one that should shake things up again once it's released? MR: Apple's development landscape is a black box for the most part, so this is all hypothetical. But a Retina display-equipped MacBook Air would be a huge winner on my personal list. I'm using a Retina MacBook Pro now and it's fantastic, but there are a few rough edges; the Air would be another generation forward and would be a sight to see. There's been a lot of nasty back and forth between Apple and Samsung involving their court case, with Apple claiming its iPhone designs were ripped off, and Samsung issuing counterclaims of its own. What's your take on what's going on, and should consumers care? MR: Consumers generally benefit when companies pursue their own unique ideas about what products should look like, how they should work, and what tasks they should perform. The one big exception is transformative innovation, where you can clearly see a before and after, and it's evident that eventually all products in a category will work in "the new way." The iPhone represents that kind of disruptive market change, and it's certainly understandable that Samsung and other Android phone manufacturers would want to copy their way into a catch-up position rather than trying to figure out a new way to do it. The problem is that copycats dilute the power of the next wave of disruptive innovation, and without some sort of strong protection for original inventions, you're less likely to get really incredible products. Consumers may be happy in the short term if they can get an Android phone that's "just like an iPhone," but in the long run the entire market suffers when true design leaders don't invest in creating the next wave. Has the new iPad lived up to all its hype, in your view? Is there a competitor's tablet that's even close to it in terms of features and function? MR: Yes it has, and no, there's not. There isn't a "tablet market" to speak of; there's an iPad market, and then there's everything else. The only Android tablets that have gained any traction — namely the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire — aren't in the same category as the iPad, and nothing can compete with the Retina screen. There's been a lot of talk about Apple phasing out CD/DVD drives on its machines. Some say it's the way forward with everything going cloud-based, and others say it's forcing the issue of drives going obsolete before their time. Where do you come down on this? MR: Apple's still providing external DVD drives for customers who need them. Personally I rarely use mine, and most other Apple customers say the same. The MacBook Air is the most popular Mac portable of all time, so the lack of an optical drive isn't stopping buyers. Of the many, many Apple products you've owned and tried over the years, what's you favorite (or favorites) and why? MR: Gosh. Probably my Mac SE/30: pound for pound, the best compact Mac ever. But I am terribly fond of my iPad. If all this talk about Apple has you craving something new, then be sure to check out our Mac deals page for the latest discounts on Apple laptops, iPads, and more. Photo credits top to bottom: Wired, CNET, and Business Keywords Related Apple features: dealnews Price Trends: When to Buy a Mac Don't Buy an iPad Instead of a Laptop for a College Student The Rise and Fall of the iPod: Deals Become Scarce Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth, and was most recently the managing editor of WalletPop.com, and before that a veteran columnist at theChicago Tribune. Follow @dealnews on Twitter for the latest roundups, price trend info, and stories. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.