Google’s new flagship The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro smartphones have received tough reviews so far, in part thanks to the custom Tensor processor. Google In-House has designed “System on a Chip”, which gives it the same speed and efficiency as what Apple enjoys with its native Silicon. And while there’s a lot to appreciate about flashy performance and all-day battery life, Tensor offers another, less taut advantage: safety.
Google is not alone in creating its own smartphone chip, a trend that has been building across the industry over the past few years. Each level controls — hardware, firmware, and software without having to rely on external partners. As a result, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro take some big steps, such as a five-year security update guarantee, up to three years from an industry standard. (Apple typically supports iPhones up to seven years old, but it doesn’t promise up front.)
Some of the biggest security and privacy benefits of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are less obvious, and Tensor and Google’s additional Titan M2 security chip relate to how it works and protects sensitive data. Adding new clarity features and security protection from Android 12 on top of that, the Pixel team said its goal was to make the cost of hacking 6 and 6 Pro as much as possible for attackers.
“This does not mean that there are no bugs, it does not mean that it is impossible to hack, but the cost continues to rise,” said Dave Klidermacher, vice president of engineering for Android security and privacy. “I think it’s becoming more and more clear that the open source strategy is the winning strategy.”
This strategy is in stark contrast to Apple’s closed iOS ecosystem, which has certainly struggled with its security in recent years. Then again, there’s Android, too, and it addresses the additional hurdle of manufacturers offering their own versions of the operating system on their hardware — that is, not all security and privacy updates are created in a timely manner on each device.
Although the Pixel 6 and 6 Plus have all the products. Tensor is based on ARM technology and uses that company’s isolation architecture, TrustZone, as a way to turn off sensitive data and calculations. But Tensor also offers an isolated, open source sandbox known as Private Compute Core that uses specialized data analysis techniques to capture Android features like live captions and smart reply suggestions without having to store or share data with Google. The goal is to offer customized features so that your identifying data never leaves your devices. On the Pixel 6 and 6 Plus, TrustZone and Private Compute Core both run a special, secure, open source Google operating system known as Trusty OS.
And the fun of safe processing doesn’t stop there. Tensor also has a dedicated physical area, the Tensor Security Core, which communicates with the Titan M2 chip to protect important processes such as secure boots. The Titan M2 is a completely different custom chip that now has more memory, more storage, and a more powerful cryptography engine for things like encryption key management and biometric authentication.