I also started reading about steppers with position encoders built in and that got my attention since it might allow me to skip the initialization and simply drive the stepper to the correct position at any point in time. However, I'm not finding any Arduino sketches or projects that leverage this position encoder functionality.
Interesting about the stepper encoders not being absolute. Kind of a bummer actually... Does make a simple initialize function seem like the better way to go then.
Did you consider a 360 degree servo ?