Update, May 31, 12:30PM EST: An issue with a very similar description has been reported in Google’s Android issue tracker back in 2018. At the time, Google developers said they were unable to reproduce the issue and closed it out (Hat tip: inverimus on Reddit). We’ve reached out to Google for clarification.
According to several users on Reddit and Twitter, as well as Partha Sarathi Tripathy in our comments section, the issue is caused by the color profile of the image, which exceeds the bounds of what Android can handle, causing a crash.
Looking at user reports, it looks like devices from Google, Samsung, OnePlus, Nokia, Xiaomi are affected, though not all models behave the same.
Original story, May 31, 04:40AM EST: Here’s a cool and a little troubling story for you this Sunday morning.
Simply setting an image as wallpaper on your phone could cause it to crash and become unable to boot.
The issue was reported by well-known leaker Universe Ice on Twitter and confirmed by dozens of other users.
I tested it myself. First, foolishly, on my daily driver, the Mate 20 Pro, which doesn’t appear to be affected. I was able to replicate the issue on a Google Pixel 2. After setting the image in question as a wallpaper, the phone immediately crashed. It attempted to reboot, but the screen would constantly turn on and off, making it impossible to pass the security screen.
Restarting the device in safe mode (by holding down the volume button during boot-up) did not fix the issue.
Eventually, my Pixel 2 displayed a message saying the phone can’t boot and offered the option to try again (which I did with no luck) or factory reset the device.
A factory reset did bring my Pixel 2 back to normal, but obviously that meant losing all my data.
Many users on Twitter report running into the issue. As user Sebastian noted, the issue can also be reproduced on the emulator bundled with Android Studio.
At this point, it’s not clear what’s causing it, but considering it’s happening on devices from multiple brands, including Google, it’s possible that the image somehow conflicts into an underlying issue with the Android OS. It’s also possible that it was specially crafted to take advantage of an existing vulnerability.
I do not encourage anyone to try setting the image as wallpaper on personal phones. If you can’t help it, just make sure you’re okay with doing a factory reset.
We’ll keep you posted.