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Posted on Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

Top 5 Ann Arbor area companies that changed because of Steve Jobs

By Nathan Bomey


Apple visionary Steve Jobs shows off an early version of the iPod.

Photo by The Associated Press

(See related story: 'Steve made us who we are': How Steve Jobs' advice shaped Ann Arbor software company)

Apple visionary Steve Jobs, who died Wednesday, didn't just change technology. He didn't just change industry or culture.

He changed the economy.

Even in Ann Arbor, Jobs' influence is obvious. It's impossible to walk through downtown Ann Arbor without seeing somebody talking on an iPhone, listening to an iPod or lugging a Mac laptop.

But introducing tech gadgets into our lives was just a part of Jobs' influence. He also changed business models, creating economic opportunities for some Ann Arbor companies and challenges for others.


Steve Jobs features Mobiata's FlightTrack application during a press conference in 2010.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Here are five local companies that have been directly affected by Steve Jobs and Apple:

1. Mobiata. The Ann Arbor-based mobile software firm exists because of Apple. Plain and simple. The company, founded in Minnesota by entrepreneur Ben Kazez and moved to Ann Arbor in early 2009, has created several successful applications for Apple devices — including the popular FlightTrack application.

Mobiata benefited from a tight relationship with Apple's marketing team — which frequently featured FlightTrack in Apple advertisements and commercials, for free.

Steve Jobs himself even featured FlightTrack on stage at one of his famous product press conferences in 2010.

The company's revenue topped $1 million in 2009 and doubled in 2010. In November, global travel website acquired Mobiata, saying the software firm would lead the development of its mobile presence. Now, Mobiata has quadrupled its office space on the second floor of the Nickels Arcade shopping corridor and is actively hiring software developers.

Mobiata, in fact, is just one of many different local application developers that have modeled their entire business on Apple's products. Because Jobs gave software developers 70 percent of the revenue from the sales of their apps, local companies have been able to leverage Apple's platform as a source of revenue.

"Steve made us who we are," Kazez said in an email.

2. Hand-e-holder Products. The Scio Township firm, a sister company of Burns Computer Services, has sold thousands of accessories that strap to the back of Apple's iPad, making it easier for consumers to hold the tablet computer.

Hand-e-holder President Mike Burns came up with the idea for the device when he was at a conference for Burns Computer Services and was having a hard time holding his iPad.

Now, local workers are assembling the device at Hand-e-holder's West Liberty Road headquarters. The device’s straps are made in Hillsdale, its locking mechanism is produced in Plymouth, its plate components are made in Saline and other components are made in Ann Arbor.


Customers wait to get into Briarwood Mall's Apple Store before it opened for the first time in July 2007.

File photo |

3. Logic Solutions. The Ann Arbor-based consultancy manages software development products for a wide range of clients — and its mobile application development has been taking off. Although many of the company's developers are based in Asia, project managers are headquartered at the company's office on Plymouth Road.

"I am so sorry to see that he is gone, but I think the best thing is for every technologist to do his or her part in carrying on Steve Jobs’ spirit of uncompromising innovation," Logic Solutions CEO Jimmy Hsiao wrote in a blog post today.

4. Briarwood Mall. The Simon Property Group mall — the largest taxpayer in the city of Ann Arbor — successfully attracted Apple to open up one of its legendary stores in 2007. The store is a retail destination, attracting shoppers from beyond Washtenaw County and generating buzz and foot traffic every time a new Apple product is introduced.

The personalized approach employed by Apple store "genius bar" workers has forced other retailers to adapt their strategies. National department store chain JCPenney, which has a a store at Briarwood, recently recruited Apple Store guru Ron Johnson to become its new CEO.

"Apple has made a tremendous impact on the shopping center," mall spokeswoman Denise Murray said in an email. "With each new innovation, retail excitement is created in a way that any retailer could envy."

5. Borders. A conversation about Apple's impact on the economy wouldn't be complete without an acknowledgment of the companies that didn't adapt. Ann Arbor-based Borders, which completed the liquidation of all of its stores last month, met its demise for many different reasons. But some analysts have argued that an unexpectedly swift surge in sales of electronic books — accelerated in part by Apple's iPad — was the final straw for Borders.

What other local companies have been directly affected by Steve Jobs?

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

RE: "...but it might be a little much going beyond that. Hemight be a notable businessman, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when admiration for his achievements transcends to idolization." Admiration and gratitude are quite different from idolization. I have seen the coverage (and remarks by public figures who were asked to comment) differently from the way you seem to do. For some reason, your reaction smacks a little of sour grapes to me. But perhaps I'm just longing for the days when those of us who had nothing nice to say held their tongue. It's not as if a man's passing is a political event where everyone must give their opinion or make their point.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

Since there seems to be a bias against 'big' whatever & it affects the kudos being given to Steve Jobs then why are we ignoring all the jobs that are here now & were not here before He created a lot of jobs for a lot of people & some of them made a lot of money when they were willing to take the risk of backing something different. By the way he did not balance the budget; but he did create an opportunity for more taxes to be paid by employees. That's a contribution many of us are still waiting for others to do. OH, jobs are scarce? Jobs we would like to have are scarce. Do what you love; but do something.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

Hahahaha, wouldn't it be a FAIL and an insult adding Borders on the list. Surely, we're not honoring him for the part the ipad and other ereaders played in their demise, or are we??

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Sure why not? I'm sure you're still bitter about impact of the horseless carriage and the phonograph?


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

Only the good die young.

K Thompson

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

If that's true, evil is forever?! ;-)


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

I am sorry he died and he was a great marketer of his products, BUT lets get serious. Did he cure cancer? Solve world hunger? Balance the budget? NO. He sold gadgets. To say he is responsible for the user interface of today is the big lie. IT was stolen from Xerox. He did not invent digital music. He took good ideas and sold them better. Apples share in notebooks and desktop computers is still very low. IOS is not even the number one operating system for mobile phones (Android is ahead of them). RIM started the mobile connectivity long before Apple did. They just took the idea to a different audience.

K Thompson

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

You hold him to an odd standard. Why not appreciate what he has done? No need for trash talk. He wasn't a doctor. He wasn't am economist. Yes, computers and phones and animation existed before him, and he didn't invent themnoNnowing how to popularize others' inventions for more use takes insight and application. Henry Ford did not invent the automobile but all of southern Mich. and the world are still gaga over what he DID do. C'mon!

Lionel Hutz

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

Johnny, You will find out that every idea in life is built off another idea. Many ideas are only ill conceived or only conceptual. The hard part is to perfect these ideas to actual real world uses, which yields gadgets, media, cures for cancer etc. That's what Steve Jobs did. He did an insanely great job too. Lionel

Lionel Hutz

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

Another one would include the Learning Center over on State. They've been an authorized Apple re-seller long (decades) before the trendy Apple Stores came along. Back when Apple was almost finished (circa 1996), places like the Learning Center kept the hope alive a superior product will eventually be a hit.

say it plain

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

@Dave, I feel your pain about the sort of reactions--and really, it's more the *reaction pieces* that are problematic to me--to Steve Jobs' death. Back in the early days of wondering how this whole "personal computer" device scene would evolve, Steve Jobs represented something that engineers and designers and geeks of all stripes ;-) could "idolize", as it were. More recently, there has come the days of marveling at how Jobs can make just that obscenely much money for stockholders, creating such, such, *markets for consumption*; he has wall-street/global economic *magic*! A different kind of idolatry, and one of which this "reaction piece" feels a part. I used to really respect Jobs as part of that first group...early users who committed to his 'vision' of how to make computers and what users should want from them. It's been hard since the hype-hype-hype of these later heady days at Apple to get back to that feeling, but the sad event of his death makes me recall that idea. I prefer thinking about how he made some (some, not all of them were/are so much, imho!) pretty, compelling objects, and seemed to be very, admirably, dedicated to that pursuit! When I saw the "luminaries react" news-quote reactions from the younger computer-based billionaires (and the older, non-Mac computer-based billionaires and millionaires ;-) ), I acutely felt the difference in status/vibe between Jobs and that lot of fellow entrepreneurs, though I'm probably being naive in some (many?) ways...

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 4:38 p.m.

this is a really neat article about Apple's impact here... nicely done!


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

I can respect the fact that Steve Jobs helped make a great product that has become a pop icon and affected many people's lives. ...but it might be a little much going beyond that. Hemight be a notable businessman, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when admiration for his achievements transcends to idolization.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:40 a.m.

Yea Apple and Pixar sure hold a monopoly on electronics and movie making.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 1:32 a.m.

Yes, lets all praise corporate greed an the monopolization of our nation!


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:14 a.m.

I suppose you prefer we idolize people such as the Real Housewives of New York? Maybe an NFL football player? How about a late night television host? British Royalty? Come on, this man helped changed the way people live and work. He deserves this recognition for a job well done on planet earth. Rest in Peace Steve.


Fri, Oct 7, 2011 : 12:02 a.m.

Sometimes who we mourn in their passing says more about us than them.

5c0++ H4d13y

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 10:19 p.m.

Yea creating two different billion dollar companies is no big deal.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

Some people are just haters


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 6:19 p.m.

Is that you Bill Gates?


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

I offer his family and friends my deepest sympathies, but I must agree somewhat with your remark. He was an admirable businessman and technological wunderkind...but I think the "idolizing" of a businessman that made "gadgets" for people to make life "simpler" is a bit overboard. And I started using computerized accounting back in 1972 with punch tape so I've been around to see the changes...


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

Really? Let's see... personal computer, mouse, fonts, the menu bar at the top, 3D animation from Pixar, the iPod, iPhone and iPad. That's just a great product? I think you are underestimating how much influence Jobs has had on the entire world... The way we listen to music, browse the internet and communicate with each other is because of Apple. Even if you do not have an Apple product, the product you have was most likely created to directly compete with Apple's product.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

There are dozens of small companies and independent developers in the area that work on Macintosh or iPod/iPhone/iPad development. At one time Ann Arbor had the largest Macintosh User Group in the Midwest and the 2nd or 3rd Largest in the Nation (Berkeley and Boston were larger). There was even a Macintosh related conference that Ann Arbor hosted for years. Something called "MacHack" that drew people (as I understand) from around the world.