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This Week in Apps: Apps blocking Russia, Walmart adds virtual try-on, Netflix’s trivia game – TechCrunch

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. App Annie says global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year over year to reach $295 billion.
Today’s consumers now spend more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend, and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue, App Annie noted. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend, and just eight apps topped $1 billion.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

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Image Credits: Anna Fedorenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Image Credits: Anna Fedorenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images
The Russia-Ukraine war continued to have a wide-reaching impact on the world of apps as major tech companies took action to block Russian state media outlets, RT and Sputnik, and to further isolate Russia from participating in the broader tech economy. The EU specifically banned the Kremlin-based media outlets in the region, to prevent the further spread of disinformation and propaganda across EU broadcast channels, online platforms and apps.
The app stores pulled the Russian state-owned media outlets’ apps, RT News and Sputnik News, from their global marketplaces outside Russia. This includes the ban of RT from the Windows app store, plus Google and Apple’s ban of RT and Sputnik’s apps.
Sensor Tower said that RT News had 5.7 million installs worldwide since its launch in May 2013 across the App Store and Google Play, while Sputnik had 2 million installs worldwide since its release in March 2015. Another firm reported different data. Apptopia estimated RT News had 10 million global installs and Sputnik had 3.85 million.

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🤝Netflix acquired Finland-based mobile game developer Next Games for around $72 million to expand its games business. Netflix has been offering subscriber-only games through its mobile apps on iOS and Android through partnerships and licensing deals. Next Games had ties to Netflix already, having published the role-playing game “Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales.” It had reported sales of $30.2 million in 2020, largely from in-app purchases.
💰Thatgamecompany, makers of the popular mobile game “Sky: Children of the Light,” raised $160 million from TPG and Sequoia Capital. “Sky” has over 160 million downloads and nearly 7 million DAUs. The company also added Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull as a principal adviser.
📈 Alibaba-backed Perfect Corp., makers of AR camera app YouCam and maker of tech that powers virtual AR try-on features at Google, Pinterest, Snap and others, to go public in a SPAC merger valuing the business at $1 billion. The company will raise up to $335 million in the merger.
🤝Fortnite maker Epic Games acquired online music platform Bandcamp for an undisclosed sum, hinting at its “music metaverse” ambitions. The company will continue to function as a standalone operation, it said.
💰Bengaluru-based Pocket FM, which offers a streaming app for audiobooks and podcasts, raised $65 million in Series C funding led by Goodwater Capital, Naver and existing investor Tanglin Venture Partners. The app offers more than 100,000 hours of content and reports having over 50 million users.
💰Stax raised $2.2 million in a seed extension round for its app that allows Africans to buy airtime, send and request money and transfer funds between accounts. U.S. firms World Within Ventures and Noemis Ventures co-led the round. Stax has 170,000 customers, 40,000 of which are monthly actives.
💰U.K. investment app Shares raised $40 million in Series A funding in a round led by Valar Ventures. The company has 130 employees in London, Paris and Krakow and is working to expand the app to other EU markets.
🤝Food delivery app maker DoorDash acquired hospitality tech startup Bbot for an undisclosed sum. The deal aims to expand DoorDash’s services, like DoorDash Drive and DoorDash Storefront; increase partner restaurant sales; and reduce wait times to order and pay.
🤝Mobile marketing company AppLovin to acquire content distribution and advertising service for connected TVs, Wurl, for $430 million, 55% cash and 45% stock. The deal will close in the first half of 2022, and follows AppLovin’s acquisition of Twitter’s MoPub.
💰HearHere, a storytelling app designed for road trips, raised $3.2 million in seed funding to scale its business. The app, which is also backed by actor Kevin Costner, has more than 100,000 registered users and offers more than 8,880 stories across the U.S. The new round was led by RV and outdoor camping retailer Camping World.
💰Flashfood raised $12.3 million in Series A funding to scale its grocery app that aims to tackle food waste. The app lets users browse deals at nearby grocery partners, then pay for items in the app and arrange for pick up. To date, the company claims to have saved shoppers $100 million and diverted more than 34 million pounds of food from landfills.
💰GetMyBoat, a boat rental marketplace and mobile app, raised $21 million in Series B funding. Japanese manufacturing company Yanmar Global took a majority stake in the company, which now overs over 150,000 rentals in 9,300 destinations.
🤝iSpot, a real-time TV measurement company, expanded its cross-platform viewing verification capabilities through the acquisition of Tunity, a TV-viewing solutions and analytics company that measures consumer viewing habits in public locations nationwide. Through its iOS/Android app, Tunity allows users to hear live audio from muted televisions directly on their mobile devices.

Last year, genealogy service MyHeritage went viral after introducing a new “deepfake” feature that allowed users to animate the faces of loved ones in still photos. TikTok users posted videos reacting to the technology, called “Deep Nostalgia,” as they brought back relatives they never got to meet or those whose loss they still grieved. To date, more than 100 million photos have been animated with the feature. Now comes the next iteration. This week, MyHeritage along with technology partner D-ID is expanding upon “Deep Nostalgia,” with the launch of “LiveStory,” a feature that doesn’t just bring the people in photos to life with movement, but actually has them speak.
The company licensed the new technology from D-ID, a Tel Aviv-based startup that works to create patented video reenactment technology powered by AI and deep learning techniques.
To make the lips match the words, D-ID trained a neural network on a database of videos of people speaking. Its technology is able to work with any language, the company says. The MyHeritage implementation, however, supports 31 languages, including dozens of dialects, with both male and female voice options. After the LiveStory is created, users can watch it, share it with friends or post it to social media. They also can customize the story further by editing the text, choosing a different voice or even uploading their own audio recording.
The feature is available in the MyHeritage mobile app and is free to use a few times before a subscription is required.
 
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She has spent the past eight years playing the role of an infrastructure consultant, and has now joined Inferse.com as a full time blogger. Her current profession is a result of her deep interest in computer gadgets, laptops, gaming accessories and other tech happenings.

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