iPhone vs. Android and hardware encryption

When Google announced Android Lollipop, one of the most important features for customers in the post-Edward Snowden era was hardware encryption enabled by default. Put simply, on first-boot your personal data would be kept far safer on your personal device. Unfortunately, it looks like default hardware encryption in Lollipop is a nice-to-have, not a must-have, and many Android phone vendors have simply decided to keep it off. From Ars Technica:

A little over three months after Lollipop's release, we're finally beginning to see new devices from third parties. One is the second-generation Moto E. Its userdata partition is not encrypted by default. Ars Reviews Editor Ron Amadeo tells me that new Galaxy S6 demo units at Mobile World Congress aren't encrypted by default either.We asked both Motorola and Google about this, and we eventually discovered what was going on. The latest version of the Android Compatibility Definition document (PDF), the guidelines OEMs must follow to create Google-approved Lollipop devices, includes a subtle change in policy.

The reason seems to be architectural:

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In other words, hardware encryption was wreaking havoc with Android read/write performance on those phones, so it was turned off. Jerry Hildrenbrand, writing for Android Central:

Interestingly, Google is not using the Qualcomm hardware cryptographic engine in AOSP or for the Nexus 6. This is inefficient as it forces CPU-based encryption and decryption during disk I/O (likely at every 512 byte interval) versus using Qualcomm's hardware-based performance features. We're not going to second guess why this is done, but know that OEMs are free to implement it as they like. We hope they will.

That's what, apparently, led to complaints about the Nexus 6 performance as well. Hardware encryption can still be turned on for all Android phones running Lollipop — now estimated to be 3.3% of devices — but absent hardware acceleration or manufacturers upgrading to faster media to make up for the encryption overhead, doing so will likewise negatively affect performance. It's also arguable whether or not everyone who could benefit from it will know they can turn it on.

By contrast, Apple has supported hardware encryption in every iPhone since the iPhone 3GS{.nofollow}. What's more, the iPhone has supported hardware acceleration for AES encryption and SHA1 hashing since iPhone 5s.

It's especially notable that the hardware acceleration comes courtesy of the 64-bit ARMv8 Apple A7 "Cyclone" chipset, which caught the rest of the mobile processor industry flat footed and led some to claim Apple was advancing needlessly fast.

Suffice it to say, iPhone owners enjoying full, accelerated hardware encryption going on two years likely disagree. And it's just one of the many security and privacy benefits of switching to iPhone.

Whether you need hardware encryption — or full disk encryption as it's sometimes called — is a matter of some debate. For iPhone owners, you have it whether you need it or not. And make no mistake, that's a good thing.

For Android owners, I'll again point you to Jerry's excellent explainer on Android Central:

Plenty of us will find full disk encryption useful. If you have sensitive information that you never, ever want to fall into the wrong hands on your phone, FDE is a godsend. For someone to get into your data, they must know your device password. No amount of fiddling over a wire is going to let them break in, and provided you used a strong password, your data is safe because after a handful of wrong guesses, everything goes on lockdown.For others, just the standard lock screen security will enough. If we lose a phone, we can remotely wipe it via Android Device Manager or another utility, and if someone is able to go offline before we can wipe, then get lucky enough to bypass our lock screen password (it can happen), all they get is a few pictures and Google account access that we can quickly change a password on.There also is the whole government snooping issue to think about. While most of us don't have a reason to fear any consequences for what we have stored on our phones, we still deserve a bit of privacy and protection when our personal data is concerned. Full disk encryption gets us closer to keeping our data secure from government agencies who think they need to see it.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

90 Comments
  • Android seems to be okay. Even though i am going back to Apple tomorrow. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Why are there so many Android related articles on this site? While the comparisons are cool and all, at what point do we simply write an article without mentioning the competition? I think we can all agree that AndroidCentral nevers writes as many articles about the iPhone. Maybe its almost always just a slow news day in Apple land...
  • AC rarely mentions the IPhone and when it does it bis usually positive. I don't understand the negativity of Imore. Posted with my Sony Xperia Z3 via the iMore App for Android
  • Android Central headlines: Apple invents Google Voice with OS X 10.10 Yosemite Apple is inventing bigger smartphones today! Report: Apple to invent smartwatches on September 9 What Android features will Apple 'invent' tomorrow Apple realizes Samsung was right, releases the new 5.5-inch Apple to invent colored phones on Sept. 10 The biggest difference is that iPhone owners don't seem bothered by them :)
  • And here's the guy writing all the negative Android articles for iMore. You are obviously bothered by them. Rene, you say you like competition but I see it as you like competition as long as it's not against Apple. I can tell right away from the article titles that it is Rene Ritchie writing them. I click on them just to verify and sure enough I can spot 90% of your articles just by looking at them. I swear I think you are getting paid by Apple. I hope that isn't true but the way you write your articles, it just seems like they are ads for Apple. I listen to Macbreak Weekly and respect Andy Ihnatko and Alex Lindsay's opinions because they actually see the negative and positives of both operating systems (Android & iPhone, even Windows), but you on the other hand see any negative remark on Apple as a personal attack. And this is coming from a guy that uses iOS and Mac full time (iPhone 5s, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini, MacPro, Macbook Pro). I really do like competition and I think it is healthy for the consumers. I hope you don't take this negatively as well but I do wish you would stick to writing excellent Apple articles and not Android hate articles.
  • To be honest though, when I switched to using Android for a year, I would see negative posts about Android and not really read them, similarly I would see negative posts about Apple and would not really worry about reading them. We all have a choice when we come across a negative story about Android or Apple and choose to either read it and ignore it, not bother reading it at all and ignoring it or reading it and getting all uptight and then griping in the comments about it or not bothering to read it and getting all uptight about it in the comments. When I was originally an iPhone user I worked on the basis of read/not read and ignore the stories that were negatively biased against Apple but at the same time I also chose the same action to do that for those negatively biased Android articles as well. When I switched back to the iPhone with the launch of the iPhone 6 I continued with that same policy of not letting the stories affect me. To say though that this article is exceptionally negative and to blame it purely on the writer is ignoring that at least, if not more than, half the length of the article is direct quotes from other Tech sources including Android Central. Is it really wrong to have an article that is talks about an issue with encryption on those devices where hardware data encryption is not available and Lollipop originally required encryption regardless. Sure it may be a little doing the rah rah and waving the pompoms cheerleading Apple's encryption as standard but it is an Apple centric blog and you've got have a little Apple in the piece. Though we do have to remember that for the majority of Android users or any phone user the encryption of your data is not an issue because there is a huge chunk of the average users that don't bother having any form of pin number or password to unlock their device because they don't think they really need it.
  • It's an iphone blog. He knows what kind of posts generates hits. I'm kind of amazed how many android or other fans read iMore. I haven't been to android central in months. But instead of getting all excited about negativity, argue the subject. Point out with facts where he's wrong.
  • Really? You all find out that android OEMs are turning off hardware encryption on their phones and once again hiding behind secrety all the while sitting back and letting people believe it is on and working by default on all android lollypop devices and instead you call out Rene for being honest and truthful. I for one appreciate the news as I probably would never have known and thought Google was smart for adding it in android lollypop. This is more damaging than you think. Do you think any companies are going to switch to android from the iPhone (which apple is currently dominating in the business market) In the business market? No, let's all sit back and be ignorant to the fact because poor android fans can't take negative news from an apple tech blog. Give me a break people. If you don't like it then stop coming here. He even quoted jerry at android central that seems to be agreeing that this shouldn't be turned off by default. Why not stop giving Google and their OEMs an out every second and instead demand better from out tech in a post snowden world. I used to think I could care less what data they have on me , but after finding out that companies are making money by selling my data to the highest bidder and creating a market around my data I no longer choose to be ignorant to the fact.
  • Android encryption still exists, just not turned on by default. I, for one, don't care, because I don't store any valuable information on my phone. I would care if I had my credit/debit card on it, but: 1) those would be handled by encrypted servers anyway
    2) I'd just go into settings and encrypt the phone
  • Just looking back as far as January 24:
    iMore Headlines:
    Samsung announces Galaxy S6 (the S is for Shameless)
    Why did you dump your Nexus for an iPhone 6?
    Lenovo reminds everyone why it's better to get a Mac
    Samsung should make a not-Apple TV
    How to get your Android music onto iPhone
    Apple growing, Samsung slowing, and doubling down on the 'great product' strategy And, the "Switch to iPhone" series:
    Switch to iPhone: For better privacy and security
    Switch to iPhone: For Touch ID and Apple Pay
    Switch to iPhone: For a better everyday camera! All of these were written by you. And yes, there are better examples, but remember, I only looked back as far as 1/24.
  • I think you are mistaken, there's another websites that you can go to for example Android Central, this is "i"More, "i" stands for the "i" for iPhone, so what do you expect that Rene trashes Apple, are you guys 15 or what you know Renee is an Apple fan so get it over with!
  • And I'm a Google and OnePlus fan, and I still agree with this headline on AndroidCentral:
    OnePlus One's latest update installs SwiftKey for you, because bloatware. I've never seen Rene flat-out criticize Apple like that because he's biased. As far as the "i is for Apple" talk, this is not an Apple fan site, this is an Apple news site. It's okay to criticize what you love because nothing's perfect.
  • So imore and Rene should ignore Lenovo getting caught red handed collecting and selling your data? How about this article? Should we just ignore it because a few android fans find it hard to read? In case you haven't seen since the iPhone 6 and 6 plus apple is welcoming in millions upon millions of new customers from android and Imore is one of those sites they go to for help. So we should ignore the switch to iPhone series too huh? Stop being a baby if you don't like it then go elsewhere. I still emjoy reading about all tech but here are pro android sites like droid life I very rarely go to because of the hate, but just ignore the articles I can't stand. It goes both ways stop whining. And demand better from android or you will never see anything better. I don't get the people that call out articles all day because they chose and android device. It is literally scary that the trend now a days with android OEMs is all performance and no security. Google was praised for adding hardware encryption (finally) in android L. Now everyone is turning it off which is find, but don't go around making people think it is on as many people in business's demand this feature. If it is causing problems with how the phone works then fix it,but like is android to let people think it is on and running and it isn't. Just like is android fans to ignore reason and instead whine about negative articles even if they are written on an apple site built for new apple converts.
  • No, you're not obsessed, Rene... Everyone remembers those date stamps... Lol Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Rene I have to be honest here and say that while I love your reporting on Apple products and the podcasts, the vast majority of your posts lately have been damn right bashing Android. Yes Android posts some articles that bash on the iPhone, however you've let this sight do in the past two weeks in the march up to the Barcelona event that its getting to be to much.
    Apple makes amazing products and Android has some amazing devices, I expect to read more about the benefits of using Apple products and different articles about Apple instead of just saying that this and that is better than this or look at this Samsung phone that I haven't seen in person and think it looks exactly like an iphone even though the people who have seen it and held it keep saying that it isn't.
    I'll go back to yesterdays comments, stop being so butthurt Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Hardware accelerated encryption is a benefit of using Apple products. It is a benefit over other phone platforms that don't offer it. Do you want to know the benefits of an iPhone compared to using a diesel tractor instead?
  • Wrong. It's a benefit of using devices with ARMv8 processors (which Apple used in the iPhone 5S and 6). Every 2015 Android flagship should also have this, so enabling encryption won't affect performance anymore than it does on the iPhone,
  • BB10 m8 "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • It clearly bothers you that you flame bait in every article now.
  • And if you read those articles, none of them were out right negative. They were making jokes about the fact that iOS was getting features later than android yes, but they talked about said features in a positive humorous way. And last time I checked you could encrypt android phones since Jelly Bean, you just had to enable it yourself. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • Those were spread out over a long period of time (it seems to be about 2 years), while there have been at least 6 anti-Android articles here in the past 2 weeks. You don't see a "Switch to Android" series on Apple, because they don't have a superiority complex. It is fun to read them, though. It keeps people like me (ex-Apple people who love Android now) coming back. You know, the "horrible, but you just can't look away" thing. Like Youtube comments and train/car/plane wrecks.
  • I think you guys are a little bit too sensitive. I didn't find the tone of this article to be "negative" at all; Rene is simply describing a feature (hardware encryption) and telling you how the iPhone and various Android phones have supported it (or not) over the years.
  • Because it's right around MWC when all kinds of new android things are announced. Rene wants to try and deflect attention away from android and onto IOS and the iPhone.
  • No android OEMs are doing just fine doing that for apple. iOS is dominating android right now and android is literally years behind apple in many areas. All these newly announced phones are just including features found on iPhone 5s and earlier. Give me a break. You actually think an article written about android OEMs letting people think hardware encryption is turned on when really turning it off is a good thing and then call out an apple blog for writing about it as the bad guy. Are you all really this blind to the fact and let android OEMs get away with anything. It is time to de,and better.
  • What android OEM is saying it is enabled by default? I can't remember one mentioning it. That being said, I use an iPhone so do not really care, it's just funny Rene loved bashing Samsung and android for anytime they do anything, yet never will admit when Apple is in the wrong. But maybe being that I like tech in general, I don't put Apple on a pedestal and defend it like it is your own child in the way Rene does. Sent from the iMore App
  • Phil of Android central doesn't feel the need to make tribal articles with ios vs android. This article instead should be about the change and show how to turn it on because it is an option to turn on. I have a nexus 6 which is very fast even with encryption on. I guess it could be even faster and if you have slower hardware is will seem slow but I'd say turn it on.
  • Android Central headlines: Apple invents Google Voice with OS X 10.10 Yosemite Apple is inventing bigger smartphones today! Report: Apple to invent smartwatches on September 9 What Android features will Apple 'invent' tomorrow Apple realizes Samsung was right, releases the new 5.5-inch Apple to invent colored phones on Sept. 10
  • All playful teasing
  • They do that because both you and Apple act like you're actually inventing the damn things instead of saying Samsung was right, we needed bigger screens, or, we need to make a smartwatch to capture market share, or, Google voice is actually pretty handy... We need something similar... It's no different than The Onion article headline back in the day that read "Microsoft patents 1's and 0's" Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Truth
  • Seriously? So when a pro apple site writes an article that shows android in a bad light than things need to change, but when an android site does it they are being satirical. Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? You aren't really that ignorant are you? Samsung didn't event large phones my friend. They simply stumbled on it as they couldn't innovate around needing a bigger battery. Both Apple and Samsung got the same end but different means. Apple innovated it's way there and now we all benefit from a better performing iOS and smaller batteries get better performance. How is that a bad thing? This all the while Samsung keeps shoving larger and larger batteries just to keep up with iOS performance. To me that shows apple took the better road. A larger display device is a given all companies are doing that it isn't samsungs tech they spent r and d on. Don't give them too much credit it's just a bigger display which was destined to get bigger and bigger. Your really going to bring up the smartphone watch market which the sheer rumor apple was making one set off a flurry of companies like Samsung making a new watch every month because they simply couldn't get it right? Then your going to sit back and act like Samsung and android had this great idea all along? Do you not remember the rumor Apple was making one and now like magic the market is saturated with poor android wear smartwatches. I'll go ahead and tell the future for you. All of the smart watches on the market right now will immediately be antiquated and replaced within mere months of the Apple watch coming out. It happens with everything apple does. Apple never claims it invents anything they simply just do it better than everyone else.
  • "Samsung didn't event large phones my friend. They simply stumbled on it as they couldn't innovate around needing a bigger battery." Samsung put the S Pen on the Note along with software to use it. If they needed it just to find battery please find me an article to prove this. You are assuming with no facts to back you up. " Don't give them too much credit it's just a bigger display which was destined to get bigger and bigger." Apple kept stating that the phone was the right size because your thumb needed to be able to reach all corners of the phone. If your saying Apple would eventually gotten there so would have the phone manufacturers building an iphone like device. It just might have been an extra 5 to 10 years. Apple is selling hundreds of millions of phones. With no competition from Samsung Apple wouldn't have even thought of changing the size much more than to the 4 inches they thought was the max. "I'll go ahead and tell the future for you. All of the smart watches on the market right now will immediately be antiquated and replaced within mere months of the Apple watch coming out. It happens with everything apple does. Apple never claims it invents anything they simply just do it better than everyone else." That is a fanboy quote. It's not even out yet and we don't know everything it does and you're saying it makes all other smart watches "antiquated." Shows you in the Apple distortion field. Might it be good or great? Yes. Might it be a total let down? Yes. No one knows and you assumptions show you are not using any logic here. It's all feelings that OMG Samsung has made something that looks great but it made like an iphone with metal and glass and a sealed battery and no micro sd. Those copiers!
  • I never said Apple invented larger displays I simply stated that larger phones were destined despite what Samsung said or did. You tell me the S pen is some kind of innovation? No one I know that has had any of the Notes even use the thing past a couple of days. I would hardly call that anything special. I will give you that Apple might not have made a larger phone till later. but the fact remains it would have happened and that really is to no credit from Samsung. The proof of Samsung stumbling on larger displays is in the fact they never made smaller phones. As LTE tech came around they needed larger batteries and no matter the size they went to they still suffer from shorter battery life. The battery in the Notes are tablet sized batteries and they don't even last as long as the iPhone 6 Plus. You and I both know that since the rumor of the Apple Watch Android OEMS have scrambled to get something on the market first. Just like everything Apple does. It happens with the iPhone, it happened with the iPad, and it will happen with the Apple Watch. Every OEM on the planet waits for Apple to breath and then they react. Yes, we don't know how the Apple Watch will sell, but if it is like anything else Apple makes it should do pretty well and sell way more than any other OEM on the market. This will make them go back to the drawing board and a lot of them will simply make an Apple watch clone and call it a day. If you think that won't happen or that I am too blinded by Apple love (which is ridiculous as I like my Android devices as well) then you are the one that is denying reality. You can hate Apple all day long, but this same thing has happened year after year with every product and every product refresh. Just look at the Galaxy S 6 and 6 edge. It is a direct iPhone 6 clone on almost every feature. If you are giving Samsung a pass when they basically copied every little detail then you are the one is some kind of reality distortion state of mind. Give me a break. I'll name a few just for you. Samsung Pay (they even copied the damn name), Samungs touch ID clone (wow you don't have to swipe anymore), 64bit processing (thought that was nothing more than a gimmick when Apple did it almost 2 full years ago), 32, 64, 128GB options (really Samsung? I thought we were all wall huggers because Galaxy devices are so awesome with removeable batteries), quicker and easier camera (all the options now on one screen, wow!), white/black/gold (good thing you threw in a blue and green option as you don't want to look too desperate), no more water proofing or micro SD support (why? I have no idea probably because the iPhone doesn't have it), made a special kind of charger (whats wrong with standard Micro USB? I guess you had to be just like Apple and have your own), Samsung stores, Samsung health, S Voice (even the UI looks an awful lot like Siri), and even Samsung Wallet (wow! even the logo looks similar). I could go on and on and on about it. Even the keynote like reveals are an almost exact clone of Apple Keynotes (although far more bizaar). If this isn't proof then go look at the pages upon pages of documents (the ones that didn't get shredded or even eaten when they raided their offices) that show what Apple does and how Samsung needs to do exactly down to even the logo to confuse end users. If you think Samsung is not copying Apple then you really are ignoring reality.
  • So what exactly did you expect to see in apple's marketing "bigger screens are better, but we can't make a large phone with manageable weight yet and our interface isn't designed to be used that way, but yeah a bigger screen would've been better"
  • I don't get what your are talking in reference too. I don't expect apple to do anything. They simply wait until they feel comfortable with the tech available at the time, the cost effectiveness of that tech, and their software all meeting at the right time to bring new technology out. Other OEMs are too quick to market most of the time and it means that we have technology that doesn't always have the most ideal performance.
  • We saw your comment before so co look at one of the other replies that list all of your negative attacks, you had to go way further back than 1/26 for these headlines; most of these articles were actually pretty unbiased as well if you take the time to read them. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • lol, the fact that you compiled a list.
  • Personally I've noticed no decreased performance on my Sony Xperia Z3 since I encripted it. But then again, it's a flagship phone, so I really expected no issues to begin with. It is still smooth and has no lag, just as the day when I bought it. However, I don't know if a budget phone might be different if encripted. I use my Pebble as a trusted device to bypass the ultra complicated password, which works great, and I have the comfort of knowing that if I lose the phone no one will be able to access it without my particular watch (which is always around my wrist) or by lucky guessing my complex password. Posted with my Sony Xperia Z3 via the iMore App for Android
  • I think the Sony is one of the few with built in AES hardware encryption.. there are a few out there.. you just have to hunt for them. Although, just because it says you encrypted, doesn't mean it's full disk.. I believe their is just profile level and full disk..
  • If it did not have any effect on performance, why would it warn you before you enable it? Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Looks like Rene prefers reporting on Android rather than iOS. It must be a slow news day for him.