Friday, May 14, 2010

How to Brick your iPhone by viewing a JPEG

I'm sure there are lots of ways you can ruin an iPhone, but this one happened to me!

Well, I've noticed bugs in iPhone image viewing routine since the start. While it works well with images taken with its own camera, importing different (larger) sized images has always been problematic.

When panoramic photo stitching apps became more common, lots of people noticed these bugs, that could either crash your Camera, or simple cause your photos to show up pixelated and blurry.

This problem was alleged to be fixed in a firmware update... and the truth is I've never bumped into it ever since. Until...

Some days ago, a friend sent me an image by email. Just a regular JPEG image - the only thing being it was 3744x5616 (about 21 Megapixeis) 3MB photo.

As the Email App in the iPhone didn't allow me to zoom in to the fullest extent of the photo, I decided to save it to the camera roll, to see if I could zoom in all the way in there.

Well, just as soon as I try to view that jpeg in the camera roll... I get the same odd looking pixelated image from the old times - but worst of all: the iPhone crashed hard.
Even the reset procedure (holding the lock/home button for some seconds) took forever, and when it finally rebooted, it took an extra long time as well.


A friend next to me promptly said: "just email it to me, so I can try it on my iPhone."

I sent hime the image and... the exact same thing happened. There's definitely something glitchy here!

But in his case, things were about to get complicated. Instead of taking a long time to boot, his iPhone entered an infinite boot loop. It showed the Apple logo, took forever... and then rebooted again... non stop.

When he finally got home, every attempt to restore the iPhone to a previous backup or forcing a firmware update failed. His iPhone was bricked!

(Thankfully, our phone operator has already exchanged his iPhone 3GS with a brand new model! :)

I can't think of a reason why viewing an image could ever cause a device not to respond even to a firmware update. And considering the risks, I'm not inclined to do further testing on my iPhone...

I've reported this bug to Apple, and they say it might get fixed in a future OS 4.0 beta version. (Might?... What are they waiting for? To receive dozens or hundreds of bricked iPhones?)

Until then... I advise against trying to use your iPhone as viewer for large sized photos.

Also wondering if the iPad might suffer from the same bug as well, as its higher quality and higher resolution screen will certainly make it a prime candidate for photographers to use it as a photo display for their portfolio...

Update (2010/05/20): Apple reports this issue is solved in OS 4.0 b4.

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