Guy Whose Photo Broke Android Phones Just Wanted to Capture a Beautiful Sunset

Guy Whose Photo Broke Android Phones Just Wanted to Capture a Beautiful Sunset
Here is a cropped version of Agrawal's photo, which is quite stunning. Don't worry about it breaking your phone though, we've edited the photo to prevent any issues with its colour space. (Photo: Gaurav Agrawal, Flickr)

During a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana last year, scientist and amateur photographer Gaurav Agrawal simply wanted to capture a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, after sharing his pic on Flickr, people discovered that Agrawal’s lovely work was crashing certain Android 10 phones.

Unbeknownst to Agrawal, even though his gorgeous photo appeared just fine on his computer and on the web, when editing the photo in Lightroom, he exported the pic using an extra-wide HDR colour space. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big issue. However, because Android 10’s built-in colour rendering engine couldn’t properly display the photo’s larger colour space, setting Agrawal’s photo as a wallpaper on some Android phones (primarily Google Pixels and Samsung phones) could cause the phone to boot loop and repeatedly restart until a factory data reset is performed.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Agrawal, whose work has appeared in National Geographic, said he had no idea the exporting format would cause this much havoc, “I hoped my photography would have gone ‘viral’ for a good reason, but maybe that’s for another time.”

“I have an iPhone, and my wallpaper is always a photo of my wife,” he told the outlet, so it’s never been an issue for him.

As the photo spread around the interwebs, even big names like Ice Universe started issuing warnings to people who might have stumbled onto Agrawal’s admittedly stunning photo. Though interestingly, when Ice Universe uploaded the image to Weibo (but not Twitter), the pic’s colour profile was altered enough so that it no longer presented any issues.

Meanwhile, many older Android devices and some Android phones like those from Nokia weren’t affected, as most Nokia phones do not use the default Google colour rendering engine. Either way, unless you are prepared to do a factory reset on your phone, we would strongly advise against downloading the photo and setting it as your wallpaper.

In the time since the bug began to spread, Android developers have identified the issue and submitted patches to the Android Open Source Project to help prevent the bug from causing problems in the future. Furthermore, users running the Android 11 Beta (which should become officially available later this year) say their devices are also immune due to a change in the way Android 11 converts images that have unsupported colour spaces. But if you want even more detail on how this bug really works, you should check out XDA Developer’s in-depth analysis here.

For Agrawal, who had been visiting Glacier National Park for the third time, it’s a bit sad that such an amazing shot brought with it some serious unintended side effects, especially since before capturing the image, Agrawal was about to give up for the day.

“It was gloomy and cloudy, and we thought there wasn’t going to be a great sunset. We were about to leave when things started to change.” As for future shots, Agrawal said “I’m going to use another format from now on.”