You might think of malware or poorly coded programs as common causes of a crashed phone. But users of both Android and iOS have reported their devices being taken down by things as simple as text messages, or even photos. How in the world could receiving a string of characters or loading up a picture, forced your phone to shut down or worse, get stuck in a boot loop?
Let's start with text bombs, which have notably affected iPhones several times in recent years. A text bomb is simply a specific string of text that will cause your device to crash because it can't handle it correctly.
Typically, a text bomb may contain symbols, emojis, or rarely used characters that make your phone do additional processing. One well known example is the rainbow glitch from a few years ago, where typing a white flag emoji, the number zero and then a rainbow emoji and then sending it, would cause the recipient's phone to freeze because iOS tried to combine these characters into a rainbow flag, but a bug in the programming kept it from doing so properly.
More recently, we saw a certain text string in the Sindhi language, which is spoken in parts of India and Pakistan crash some devices running iOS 13. The bug was caused because some languages written in a Perso-Arabic script, including Sindhi, stack diacritical marks on top of the main characters, meaning that an individual character can get quite tall with lots of marks above and below it. When iOS went to show you the abbreviated version before you opened your phone messaging app, it would get confused because it didn't know how to handle the extra character bulk.
Ultimately, the operating system would try to access an area of RAM that didn't even exist. And if you know anything about programming, memory faults like this commonly cause crashes.
Now let's shift gears and talk about how photos can also bring down your phone. In May 2020, there was an innocent enough looking photo of a landscape circulating that caused some Android phones to crash if users tried setting it as their wallpaper. Ironic, given the tranquil mountain scenery that it contained. The issue here had to do with color space. To put simply, it's the system that software and hardware used to store color information and reproduce colors accurately. The Android operating system uses the sRGB color space, which is quite standard across the web. Every pixel in an sRGB image has its red, blue, and green values, the three primary colors, expressed as eight bits. So each pixel can have 255 different intensities of red, green, and blue to create whatever color you're supposed to see. Problem is, if an image is coded to use a different color space, it might support more values than just eight bits per channel RGB. So if the values in an expanded color space are higher than what the sRGB only operating system expects, it can generate what's called an out-of-bounds exception and make your phone crash since the OS doesn't know what to do with those values.
Making matters worse, because your wallpaper obviously loads whenever you restart your phone. Incidents like these can trap your device in a boot loop, meaning you might have to resort to a complete factory reset to resolve the problem.
What can you do as a user to prevent this kind of misfortune? Welp, unfortunately, these issues are really just caused by programming bugs. So the best thing you can do is keep tabs on your favorite tech news sites and steer clear of any gamebreaking texts or photos until the problem is patched.