If you've lost your phone it's not necessarily gone forever. But don't wait until you lose it to prepare: you'll need to configure it now to enable you to find a lost Android, iPhone or Windows Phone. Here's how to set up phone tracking and how to find your phone.
Note that the solutions offered in this tutorial will require your phone to be switched on in order to give you an accurate idea of its location, and to access options to remotely lock or wipe it. If your battery runs out or your phone is stolen and switched off, you may be out of luck.
For that reason it's imperative that you back up everything now, just in case you can't get it back. Follow our advice on how to back up Android, how to back up an iPhone and how to back up Windows Phone.
Below we'll consider the options built into each major mobile operating system to explain how to track your lost or stolen phone. For each of these you will need to be signed into either your Google, Apple or Windows account on the phone before you begin.
Some third-party options are also available. Prey is a particularly popular option, available not only for mobile devices but also Windows, OS X and Ubuntu laptops. If you have several devices spanning multiple platforms, it's worth considering an option such as this that lets you track them all from a single interface. Read up on how to track lost laptops and smartphones with Prey.
Updated 10 November 2016 with Find My iPhone updates.
Find my phone: How to track a lost Android phone
Device Manager offers the easiest way to track an Android phone. You don't need to have the app installed on your phone to use it, but you do need to check that your settings are correctly configured before you lose it.
To start using Device Manager, open the Google Settings app (not the phone's own Settings app) and tap on Security. Under Device Manager ensure the options to 'Remotely locate this device' and 'Allow remote lock and erase' are enabled.
Location access also needs to be switched on for Device Manager to work. Once again open the Google Settings app, but this time choose Location. On the next screen tap 'Google Location History' under Location Services, then ensure it's switched on.
You now have two ways of tracking a lost Android phone.
If the phone is switched on and has a signal you'll be able to track it in Device Manager - head to android.com/devicemanager on another device and sign into your Google account. It should automatically find your device and report its location on a map. Also in Device Manager you'll find options to make the phone ring, lock out a suspected thief or wipe its contents.
There is also an Android Device Manager app, which is useful if you have several Android devices to track. It's free from Google Play.
Another option, if your phone is switched off, is to check your location history to find its last reported location. You can do this by visiting google.com/settings/accounthistory and tapping on Manage History under Places you go.
You'll now see a map of all the places in which your device has reported its location during a time period that you specify. The last known location is where Google last saw it before the battery died, and if your luck's in it may still be there.
Note that location history uses Wi-Fi- and mobile signals rather than GPS, so it won't be as accurate as Android Device Manager.
Find my phone: How to track a lost iPhone
To locate a lost Apple device you need Find My iPhone - but before you lose your iPhone you'll need to ensure it's set up on your device. Just tap on Settings, iCloud, then scroll down to and enable Find My iPhone. Also turn on the option below, which sends your last known location just before your battery dies.
Find My iPhone requires location services to be active, too, which you'll find under Settings, Privacy, Location Services.
Having set up Find My iPhone, you have two ways to track a lost device. Firstly, you can use the free Find My iPhone app on another Apple device to track your phone.
Alternatively, you can sign into your account on a desktop browser at iCloud.com, then tap Find My iPhone.
If you have multiple Apple devices select the one that's been misplaced.
Having selected your phone, Find My iPhone will show you on a map its last known location, and offer options to sound an alarm, lock it or erase its contents.
For a more thorough guide to Find My iPhone see our sister site Macworld: How to use Find My iPhone.
Note: It was recently discovered by CNBC that Apple has filed a patent in order to allow you to remotely switch on a stolen or lost iPhone. Normally, you'll find that you cannot locate your iPhone due to it being switched off, which is often the case when your phone is stolen.
This new technology would allow your phone to remotely be switched on, if it has enough power to transmit GPS location data before it dies of low-power. On the plus side, if a thief wants to factory reset your iPhone they'll need to switch it on, connect it to a computer and in-turn charge the device - allowing you to locate it. The feature hasn't been yet released by Apple, but the prospects are positive in reducing stolen phones being lost forever.
Find my phone: How to track a lost Windows Phone
Windows Phone also has its own built-in phone tracker feature. From the home screen swipe to the right to open the apps list, then scroll down to and select Settings.
Scroll down the Settings pane until you find the Privacy section. Here you'll find options for Location and Find my phone. The first should be turned on by default; open the Find my phone option and enable the option to 'Save my phone's location periodically and before the battery runs out to make it easier to find'.
To later find a lost Windows Phone, all you need do is log into your Windows account at account.microsoft.com/devices. Hit 'Find my phone' under the device you're looking to locate.
You'll now see a map onscreen showing you the last place your Windows Phone reported its location. As with Android Device Manager, also here are options to Ring, Lock and Erase.
Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.