The popularity of Google’s Android may ensure that Google will play a prominent role in the smartphone market for years to come, but its future in the tablet space is anything but guaranteed.

Apple’s iPad is the tablet standard, and lower-end competitors like the Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet use forked versions of Android that Google can’t control or monetize. For a variety of reasons, Google hasn’t thus far been able to rely on third party manufacturers to build a killer Android tablet.

And it’s unlikely to get easier for the search giant any time soon.

Windows 8 is coming, and while there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Microsoft’s prospects, the company is betting big on tablets. In fact, it’s so intent on capitalizing on the tablet opportunity that it’s getting into the hardware game and building its own tablet.

The considerations that likely led Microsoft to decide that it had to build a tablet were not lost on executives at Google, which after weeks of rumors today announced at its I/O developers conference a homegrown Android tablet called the Nexus 7.

The slate, which was built in partnership with ASUS, features a quad-core Tegra3 processor and, as the name suggests, a 7-inch IPS screen that supports a 1280×800 resolution. There’s also NFC functionality and a 1.2-megapixel camera, but somewhat surprisingly no SD card slot. The Nexus 7 will be the first tablet to ship with the latest version of Android, Jelly Bean.

Given the dramatic decline in the prices of tablet devices in the past year, it’s not surprising that Google is offering a 8GB Nexus 7 model for $199, which has proven to be a key price point in the tablet market. For those wanting more horsepower, there’s a 16GB model available for a $249. Both models come bundled with content, as well as a $25 Google Play credit.

The Nexus 7 is available for purchase now in the US, UK, Australia and Canada and orders are expected to ship out in mid-July. Timing is likely important here, as Google obviously wants to get as far ahead of the Windows 8 train as it possibly can.

But the question still remains: is the Nexus 7 good enough? The spec looks reasonable, particularly considering the price point. But at the same time, the Nexus 7 doesn’t appear to be a particularly inspiring device. It certainly doesn’t have the cachet of the iPad, and for those looking for a media-centric device on a budget, the content ecosystems built by Amazon and Barnes & Noble for their tablet devices may be more appealing.

Given this, it’s not clear if there’s a place for the Nexus 7 in today’s tablet market, and if there is, how big it will be.