Actually, even 44x44 px is not a comfortable touch target.
According to a research done at MIT, an average index finger tip size ranges from 45-57px dimensions, not to mention a whopping 72-75px for a thumb.
But still, design guidelines from Windows and Android suggest a minimum touch target of 26px and 48dp respectively, which are nowhere close to a ideal finger friendly target size. This is a trade-off, to accommodate more UI elements in a small screen, which seems to have successfully worked so far, except for those annoying typos on keyboards (33px for each key)
To conclude, while tablets can afford big touch targets, most mobile phone apps can not. So, it is OK to use a small touch target, as long as it serves the purpose. Most websites still use links for navigation even though they are not very touch friendly, but still serve the purpose.
What is the optimum button size of touch screen applications?