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Apple job listing hints at iPhone nearing China launch

A single listing on the Apple's career pages suggests the company has pledged itself to releasing the iPhone in China, one of its most elusive markets.

The posting made Thursday for an iPhone Quality Assurance Engineer in Beijing doesn't try to mask its likely role.

Apple is looking to "to focus on international releases of our iPhone and iPod touch products for Beijing," it reads.

If not the victim of poor wording, the engineering position represents one of Apple's authoritative steps towards an iPhone launch in China, which has frequently been one of the hardest cellular markets to crack for the California-based electronics maker.

While Apple has negotiated deals to bring its handset to China's semi-autonomous Hong Kong area as well as nearby Asian countries such as Singapore and (as of Thursday) Thailand, China itself has remained relatively cool to Apple's expansion plans and has engaged in on-and-off talks for months.

China Mobile is thought to have had multiple objections to the particulars of the iPhone since its debut in 2007. Publicly, the company resisted Apple's original revenue sharing model as a form of unwelcome foreign involvement. This objection went away when Apple switched to the more common carrier subsidy model with the iPhone 3G launch.

Other, less official objections are still widely believed to stand in the way or to have been a concern in the recent past, all of which stem from local culture and government.

As the Chinese government owns a controlling stake in China Mobile, the carrier is at the behest of leadership to support the national TD-SCDMA standard for 3G data. This has prompted suspicions that the company isn't eager to support a phone using the competing standard and even one rumor that Apple may release a non-standard iPhone to appease China Mobile, whose officials may also be worried about customers jumping ship to rival carriers that support the stock iPhone 3G's network formats.

Unlike the US, China also has a liberal attitude towards unlocked phones and regularly offers devices with unrestricted SIM cards. An iPhone release under these conditions would press Apple to either offer the phone at its high, unsubsidized price or else to accept a greater risk of customers switching devices or carriers in mid-subscription.

Even so, relations between Apple and China have warmed up in recent months. Apple chief Steve Jobs has said he hoped to launch iPhone in China and Russia by the end of 2008, and has already achieved this last goal with a three-carrier deal. No progress updates have been given since then; with the new job listing, though, Apple may have provided the first signs of clearing an impasse.