Shoehorning A Slick Spotify Remote Into An ESP8266

In 2017 Spotify finally deprecated their public vanilla C SDK library,  libspotify, and officially replaced it with dedicated SDKs for iOS and Android and this new-fangled web thing we’ve all heard so much about. This is probably great for their maintainability but makes writing a native application for a Linux or a hardware device significantly harder, at least without an application process and NDA. Or is it? Instead of using that boring slab of glass and metal in their pocket [Dani] wanted to build a handy “now playing” display and remote control interface but was constrained by the aforementioned SDK limitations. So they came up with a series of clever optimizations resulting in the clearly-named ESP8266 Spotify Remote Control.

The Spotify Remote Control has a color LCD with a touchscreen. Once attached to a Spotify account it will show the album art of the currently playing track (with a loading indicator!) and let you play/pause/skip tracks from its touch screen, all with impressively low latency. To get here [Dani] faced two major challenges: authorizing the ESP to interact with a user’s Spotify account, and low latency LCD drawing.

2 Bit Cover Art

If you’re not on iOS or Android, the Spotify web API is the remaining non-NDA’d interface available. But it’s really designed to be used on relatively rich platforms such as fully featured web browsers, not an embedded device. To that end, gone are the days of asking a user to enter their username and password in a static login box, the newer (better) way is to negotiate for a per-user token (which is individually authorized per application), then to use that to authenticate your interaction. With this regime 3rd party applications (in this case an ESP8266) never see a user’s password. One codified and very common version of this process is called OAuth and the token dance is called a “workflow”. [Dani] has a pretty good writeup of the process in their post if you want more detail about the theory. After banging out the web requests and exception handling (user declines to authorize the device, etc) the final magic ended up being using mDNS to get the user’s browser to redirect itself to the ESP’s local web server without looking up an IP first. So the setup process is this: the ESP boots and displays a URL to go to, the user navigates there on a WiFi connected device and operates the authorization workflow, then tokens are exchanged and the Remote Control is authorized.

The second problem was smooth drawing. By the ESP’s standards the album art for a given track at full color depth is pretty storage-large, meaning slow transfers to the display and large memory requirements. [Dani] used a few tricks here. The first was to try 2 bit color depth which turned out atrociously (see image above). Eventually the solution became to decompress and draw the album art directly to the screen (instead of a frame buffer) only when the track changed, then redraw the transport controls quickly with 2 bit color. The final problem was that network transfers were also slow, requiring manual timesharing between the download code and the display drawing routing to ensure everything was redrawn frequently.

Check out [Dani]’s video after the break, and take a peek at the sources to try building a Spotify Remote Control yourself.

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