June 9, 2020

A Cryptic Wallpaper is Crashing Android Phones: Science Behind the Android Phone Wallpaper Bug

Cautionary Advice: DO NOT set this image as your Android Phone Wallpaper. This Sunset, Lake, Mountains, Clouds Wallpaper Image is causing Android Phones to soft-brick.

A Cryptic Wallpaper is Crashing Android Phones: Science Behind the Android Phone Wallpaper Bug

2020 has come in like a wrecking ball, creating havoc with the most unrealistic events. One of such strange news surfaced for Android Phone users recently.

Well, the culprit is a peaceful image of a sunset on a lake, surrounded by mountains and clouds. What harm could be done by such a beautiful perfect picture, right? Well, the answer is hidden in the image’s color codes.

This scandalous image has become a viral sensation over the past week or so. Android enthusiasts and geeks are sharing the image with a disclaimer to not set it up as wallpaper. But some over excited users are daring enough to try it, leading their mobile OS to fail and crash.

This isn’t the first incident of its kind. It’s a common episode with iPhones and iOS devices, through specially crafted files or message strings. Not long ago, a Sindhi-language text and Italian flag text bomb was doing rounds, freezing everyone’s iPhones. But in comparison, it’s a rare incident with Android devices.

Android Phone Wallpaper Bug: How It Works?

First identified by Ice Breaker, a Samsung phones aficionado and researcher, tweeted about this image with a warning label (shared above). This image, only when set as the Android phone wallpaper, soft-bricks most Android phones.

What is Soft Brick in Android?

A device is soft bricked when it becomes unresponsive to one or multiple functions. For example, application crashes, phone freeze-out. These are mainly low-intensity software related bugs and can be fixed using resetting/ rebooting the device or deleting the guilty files.

How this Wallpaper Bricks the Android Phones?

Initially this mystery was only backed by guess-work, blaming the image’s metadata. But after further investigation, it was discovered that the real problem was with the image color codes.

Android OS uses SRGB mode to display graphics, while the image under spotlight has RGB color space. This was identified by Dylan Roussel from 9to5Google while he was testing it on multiple Android devices. He found that the image did not trigger the bug in Android 11, which can be attributed to the fact that the latest Android version “converts the color space (if it’s not already supported)”.

So as a closing argument, it isn’t really the image’s fault. Any other image, with similar color space could have the same effect.

What Happens When You Set it as an Android Phone Wallpaper?

This image is harmless as long as it is popping up in any app, or even saved in your phone gallery. Only using it as a wallpaper may lead to a number of irrational activities on your smartphone, such as:

  • Applications crash
  • Device crash and landing on lock screen
  • Phone turning on and off repeatedly on a loop
  • Phone gets completely unresponsive to any touch or action
  • Even a simple restart does not fix the issue here

You can see a demonstration of this Android Wallpaper Bug in the video below:

Devices/ OS Unaffected by the Android Wallpaper Bug?

The confirmed and tested list of devices that are not affected by this bug are:

  1. Android 11
  2. Pixel 4 XL
  3. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
  4. OnePlus phones

How to Fix the Android Phone Wallpaper Bug?

While the Wallpaper issue isn’t a malicious virus or malware, it can still be pretty annoying. And if you’re one of the “smart” guys who has already or is gonna try this “stupid” idea, then here’s a list of quick solutions you can opt for:

  1. To start with, if you’re quick enough while your phone is still responsive, you can change back your wallpaper to something normal and avoid the brick altogether
  2. As a next step, if your phone has a custom recovery ROM, then you can simply go in and delete the wallpaper. This will erase the image source from the OS. For this, you can find the file named ‘Wallpaper’ at following paths:
    - Upto Android OS 4.0: Go to /data/data/com.android.settings/files/
    - From Android OS 4.1 to above: Go to /data/system/users/0/
  3. If nothing else works, then the last and ultimate option is to ‘Factory Reset’ (using the bootloader).

Fortunately, Google and Samsung have also taken note of this problem and are currently working on a solution for probably all the older versions of Android.

Note: If you really like the image and want to use it as a Wallpaper on Android Phones, then you can edit the image using filters, or gradients. This makes the image completely harmless.