At this point, it’s pretty clear that Google is set to unveil a $199 Nexus-branded tablet today at its I/O developer conference. But given just how badly Google has botched Android’s leap into tablets, I’m not expecting the Nexus tablet to break any new ground. (Check out our coverage of the official Nexus 7 launch.)

We got our first glimpse at the Nexus 7 tablet a few days ago, and this morning an Asus executive confirmed the tablet’s existence to Reuters. Just like how the Nexus line of smartphones has helped shape the market for drool-worthy Android phones, Google could exert some influence over the wildly disorganized Android tablet space with the Nexus 7.

The Nexus 7 is expected to start at $199 for the 8 GB version, which would pit it squarely against Amazon’s Kindle Fire. That’s no huge surprise, since the Kindle Fire is pretty much the only Android tablet (and the only tablet besides the iPad) to see a modicum of success.

Amazon’s tablet poses a problem for Google, as it runs on a heavily modified version of Android that doesn’t support apps and media from the Google Play store. The more the Kindle Fire succeeds, the stronger Amazon’s ecosystem becomes — that’s how the retailer can sell its tablet at such a low price. Meanwhile, other Android tablets won’t be able to stand a chance without some help from Google.

What bothers me about the Nexus 7 is that it’s a purely reflexive response from Google, which is clearly afraid of losing tablet ground to Amazon. There seems to be little innovation behind the tablet, other than its low price and its privileged place as the first device to run the Jelly Bean version of the Android OS. It’s also somewhat sad to see Google working so hard to take aim at the low end of the tablet market, when the Nexus devices are supposed to represent the cream of the crop for Android.

Google and its partners have shown time and again that they don’t know much about tablets. The first Android tablets, like the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, didn’t have any tablet optimization whatsoever. Google eventually brought out Android 3.0 for tablets, but it was still slower and featured fewer tablet apps than iOS on the iPad. It also didn’t help that the initial Android 3.0 devices, like the Motorola Xoom, were incredibly expensive. Fast forward to today, and there’s still no high-end Android tablet that can truly take on the iPad.

Perhaps the Nexus 7 will have something truly exciting when it’s officially announced later today, but given Google’s complete bumbling of Android tablets so far, I’m not really holding out much hope.

VentureBeat will be on the ground at the Google I/O conference later today, so check back for the official Nexus 7 announcement.

Update: It looks like the first official image of the Nexus 7 has leaked online (see above), reports the Verge.

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